Local IT companies need to be a lot more mindful of what graduates expect of them – and allowing workers to use collaborative tools such as social networking sites and other technologies that they are familiar with may be the only way companies can hold onto their young recruits.
In sharp contrast to what industry has been saying of late about the mediocrity of the graduates entering the workplace, attendees at the closing panel of the Gartner Symposium, heard that local employers better shape up or risk losing these young wizzkids to foreign shores.
Three post-graduate students took to the stage in the closing panel, in what was a global first for Gartner. The students debated with three Gartner analysts on how web 2.0 technologies had affected them and how they saw the future of business in a web.20 world.
"Gartner speaks about the future of IT, now the future of IT can speak to us," comments Debra Logan, chairman of the Gartner Symposium/ITxpo Africa, at the start of the debate.
At the outset it was evident that all three students were used to living in a world where social network sites such as Facebook were a daily feature of their lives. They were also clearly used to an environment where the Internet was an always-on, always available tool for them and that they could not imagine living in a world where they would not have access to technology as a work enabler.
"Collaboration and a sense of community is what the Internet gives us. We would be completely cut of off without it. We use wikis, blogs and podcasts as a way to share information between lecturers and students, as well as just between students," explains Richard Longden, an Honours student in Information Systems at UCT.
Honours student at Fort Hare University, Frank Harris points out that Facebook should be used as a social tool rather than a business one and that people should rather seek out other tools such as LinkedIn for business purposes.
Today's students (referred to as Digital Natives by Gartner), have grown up with technology and Longden told the audience how he was writing his first programme in QBasic at just 10 years old. They are so familiar with technology that it is no longer seen as technology, but more of a utility.
"I've adapted to information technology, but I'm not a digital native in the truest sense. My generation adopts quickly though, so I guess I would be a digital immigrant without an accent," says 28 year-old Jacques Ophoff, pursuing his PhD at Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University. "If I want details on a company I will search blogs, not company websites. I trust my fellow users to give me unbiased information."
When quizzed by the analysts on their future employment, the students were unanimous in their requirements: "We want to be challenged, and given access to the technology that will encourage creativity. We will not work at a company that will stifle our creativity or deny us access to the collaborative tools that we are used to working with on a daily basis."
Industry in general was also chastised for its lack of engagement with tertiary education and, more particularly, for its lack of effort in promoting IT to learners. All the students were of the opinion that IT was no longer seen as an attractive career choice, was considered a second option study choice and did not pay well enough for the lifestyle conscious youth.
"My friends understand the importance of IT, but it¹s seen as uncool. Industry must change that perception, they should better represent themselves and the entire industry. It's a testament to you (audience members) that there are people that care about the future of today's students. Unfortunately we will probably end up working for the people that weren't here," says Longden.