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ACS survey reveals IT workers are ‘hideously under-trained’

Soft skills required

The level of training undertaken by IT employees is at a worrying low level, a survey undertaken by the Australian Computer Society will reveal.

Even more concerning is the rarity of IT staff taking on ‘soft skills’ training, which is seen as crucial to the continual development of a modern day IT professional, said ACS president Edward Mandla.

In the survey, which is planned for release in the coming weeks, CIOs from the society’s member organisations were asked how many days a year they thought should be allocated for training their IT staff. Their response was five to 10 days. In contrast, the ACS believes a figure closer to 20 would be more appropriate. The reality is only one to five days.

“Our [ACS’s] suspicion that we are no longer training people has been confirmed,” Mandla said. “People are hideously under-trained.”

Danika Bakalich, regional director of trade association CompTIA Australia, said the ideal is that professionals keep their skills up to date, to the benefit of their employer, themselves and the IT industry at large.

However, she said the recommended number of days per year is dependent on the job specifications required and the implementation of new technology and systems within a company.

“The amount of time set aside for training needs to be decided on a case-by-case basis,” she said.

For Mandla, of even greater concern in the ACS survey was the lack of training in so-called soft skills.

The changing role of IT workers today requires them to move from being behind-the-scene techies to client interfacing roles that require proficiency in communications, business analysis and project management.

Typically, IT workers deal with projects that are normally three to five years long, Mandla said. In that time their focus has solely been on the IT project at hand. By the end they are in a different environment. “You come out of that deadline and the world has changed,” he said.

Some workers can get offshored, condemned to the backroom or transferred to another business unit. In the latter scenario, such a change requires a new set of skills as their IT knowledge may not be all that is required to ensure the project’s continued success in the business.

Martin Hale, CEO of IT Masters, which runs its Masters courses through Charles Sturt University, agrees with Mandla about the importance of soft-skill training. He says soft skills are a major element missing from most IT professionals’ repertoire, but believes that is also by choice.

“These people don’t want to do that type of training. Geeks are not known for their love of change management or communications skills,” he said.

“Although such courses are available, people won’t go to them. Project managers have to grab them kicking and screaming.”

Hale, who has almost 30 years’ experience in the IT industry, said the solution is to embed soft skills modules in technical courses.

He concedes planting roleplays or case studies in a technical course on, say, Microsoft’s .Net or Cisco’s CNE may not be the done thing now, but says it may work best to address the problem.


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