IT grads and jobs: A serious dichotomy

THE Malaysian Information and Communications Technology (ICT) industry is facing one of its greatest challenges and strangest dichotomies: A lack of skilled workers and a glut of jobs.

In essence, there are too many jobs out there not being filled, while you get complaints that too many graduates cannot find jobs. How we got to this impasse is a tale in itself.
IT grads and jobs: A serious dichotomyMalaysia's ICT industry went through two major flourishing stages, the first in the 1980s when local “system integrators” or SIs first started mushrooming. Companies such as Mesiniaga, Computer System Advisors, Unidata and Dataprep became household names, working alongside their multinational principals such as IBM, Digital Equipment Corporation and Hewlett-Packard.
This led to universities, such as Universiti Sains Malaysia, introducing computer science courses, and ICT became a viable alternative to the more established disciplines such as science, engineering, or accountancy.
However, it was only in the 1990s that ICT began being seen as a pivotal part of the national economy, further fuelled by the ambitious Multimedia Super Corridor (MSC) project unveiled in 1996.
Public and private universities began churning out ICT graduates to meet the “knowledge worker” demands of the MSC, seen as a critical component of making the nation a developed nation and a net exporter of technology.
However by the mid-2000s, reports began surfacing that there was a glut of ICT graduates, many of whom could not find jobs in the market. One vernacular news report claimed that up to 19.5% of computer science graduates were jobless in 2006.
In slow but steady stages, ICT wasn’t seen as an attractive field any longer.
That perception persists, despite the facts that say otherwise. According to leading online recruitment portal Jobstreet, computer-related jobs – whether hardware- or software-based – have been consistently in the list of top five jobs in demand from 2009 to 2012.
In its March 2012 quarterly job outlook index, those with skills in marketing and business development or sales marketing are the most sought after employees. This is followed by those people with customer service expertise and computer and information technology (software) sectors .
Amongst industry veterans, entrepreneurs, independent software experts and multinational companies that we spoke to, there is a sense that one of the root causes of this issue has to do with the quality, or the lack thereof, of our graduates.

IT grads and jobs: A serious dichotomy
“For many years now, our industry has been facing this dichotomy of a serious shortage of ICT professionals, and yet at the same time we have so many unemployed graduates who can't find jobs so much so they give up and grab any job, event those not connected to their training,” said Harres Tan (pic), chairman of the HT Group and an industry veteran.

“I honestly fear that our industry will grind to a halt soon if this situation carries on any further. I personally know of a few IT solution vendors, including ourselves, starting to turn down contracts for fear of not being able to meet the deliverables deadlines set by customers.
“Many of us have now resorted to hiring professionals from abroad or outsourcing our development work to where we can find the skilled developers,” he added.
The Government is fully cognizant of this threat, as are the universities here. Attempts are being made to address this issue, from enacting new legislation to revamping tertiary curricula.
Digital News Asia takes a look at this complex issue through a series of stories this week, from the perspective of the industry, academia, multinationals and independent software experts.
If you have any feedback, do comment on our stories or write our editor directly at [email protected].

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