IT Roundtable seeks to align academic programming with employer needs

Posted by Kathryne Sonnett on Nov 19, 2019 10:18:28 AM


There’s a digital revolution taking place. Harnessing the power of data, innovation, and collaboration, businesses are thinking bigger, progressing further, and moving faster.

Organizations are now effectively data companies and need to be responsive to, and create a framework for, the new world of big data. But employers are finding talent gaps as they seek to fill data analysis needs. In an effort to thrive in this ever-evolving environment, tech companies and universities are learning to tackle these challenges together.

On Oct. 30, Clark University held an Information Technology Sector Roundtable, the second in a series of outreach events designed to foster collaboration and forge partnerships. The panel was hosted by John G. LaBrie, dean of Clark University’s School of Professional Studies and associate provost for professional education, and Richard Aroian, associate dean for STEM programming. The discussion gave university administrators and IT executives from area companies the opportunity to discuss the talent needs in the IT industry and offer opinions on how best to align Clark’s academic programming with growing employer needs.

“We want your advice on what you are seeing in your industry and how you can get the most benefit from universities in your area,” Aroian said. “We want to listen and incorporate the work we do with students to help you by delivering candidates who serve your needs.”

Companies are scrambling to find good data scientists and it has become a strategic imperative to produce capable employees, according to the roundtable participants. “We need a blend of the tech ‘“geek”’ person and a skilled business analyst to understand IT and its outcome,” said Barny Sanchez, chief security architect, Data and AI Cloud Division at IBM.

Employers at the forum said they seek graduates who understand data analytics and who are also agile thinkers. Today’s IT world demands employees who can apply analytical methods to behavioral patterns to see how data is consumed and used to solve business problems, they said.

“The reality is that while all programs give students the technical basics, the IT sector needs programs that go beyond traditional degree programs,” said Tom Colleary, president of F3 Technology. IT executives are looking for end-to-end thinking — a holistic approach that understands the value of addressing problems from a technical standpoint while also communicating clearly and effectively. 

 “Clark is thinking of how to create the basic DNA of an operating system for an academic model tailored to business, and is keenly interested in customizing programs targeted to industry specific needs,” LaBrie said.

Participants noted the lack of data analysts with the communication skills to help their companies move the ball forward in project management, and they are looking to Clark to educate managers on ways to effectively convey their knowledge.

“Most new employees lack the components to hit the ground running and need eight to ten months to develop the tools and skills needed to be successful in the IT space,” said Chris Kokkinos, vice president for product development at Location, Inc. Given the expense of training new employees, tech leaders are eager to partner with educators, he said, adding that degree programs need to evolve beyond the traditional curriculum and integrate technical aspects with communication and project management components.

“It has always been part of Clark’s DNA to prepare learners who are good thinkers and it will continue to be so,” said Aroian. “We want to craft incremental skills so students — particularly adult learners — can take it to the next level and are ready to make an impact on the first day.”

Several panelists reported positive experiences working with Clark students on capstone projects and expressed interest in expanding such collaborations. Aroian agreed that refining and expanding capstone work to provide the greatest value to the IT sector should be a priority for Clark.

“Insight from the industry is invaluable as we continue to build our portfolio of offerings to be timely and relevant to the talent development needs in our industry,” said Aroian

One intriguing suggestion, supported by several of the IT leaders, is to center a curriculum around a project management-based learning environment to create projects that students could showcase for employers. While a radically different model for educators, the learning that emerges would be quite powerful, they said, and answers the need for employees who understand the end-to-end business model and are able to find solutions to business problems.

Participants agreed that it could be difficult to find companies willing to partner with educators because of time and financial constraints, but those partnerships make sense. Employers want to create a culture where employees thrive, and colleges want to train students to succeed.

“We want Clark to be the school of choice for employers in the area,” said LaBrie. “We want to get a better idea of where the IT industry is and where it’s going — you all are on the frontline and we welcome your feedback on developing talent formats.” The executives said they are eager to continue the conversation and collaboration.

In addition to Sanchez, Colleary, and Kokkinos, panelists included Robin Sodano, vice president of information services/CIO at UMass Memorial Health Care; Enrique Laso Sanz, executive vice president, technology at MAPFRE North America; Tony Petisce, vice president IT operations, Fallon Health; Ryan Finlay, director of information security, Reliant Medical Group; and Joe Kalinowski, interim CIO and assistant vice president of technology, Clark University.

Topics: School of Professional Studies