CXO

10 ways businesses and academia are benefiting from collaboration

Universities and businesses are finding more and more ways to help each other build stronger tech programs and educate IT workers so they're ready to hit the ground running.

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Image: Princeton University Office of Communications

Corporate HR managers report that there are key skills shortages in IT areas like big data, business analysis, and soft skills, as well as in specific systems and applications technical areas that are present in their IT infrastructures. To deal with the shortages, some businesses have been using is a "farm team" approach, where they collaborate with local colleges and universities to train IT students in the tech areas where they have employment needs — and then hire them. Here's how it works.

1: Project sourcing

Businesses have given actual IT projects to university students that allow the students to get their feet wet in real-world applications of IT and return value in the form of a completed project for the business. Everybody wins in this scenario. For businesses, it's an excellent opportunity to get to know the colleges and the students — and to build a good name in the community.

2: Curriculum development

One reason it's difficult for many schools to stay in step with enterprise IT needs is that the professors developing college and university curricula are academicians at heart. Many have never worked in industry, so they have only a theoretical understanding of IT. Institutions of higher learning are now attempting to overhaul their curricula so they are more in alignment with the jobs that students will be applying for when they graduate. In this effort, they are reaching out to businesses for help in designing relevant curricula for IT.

3: Relationships with student placement services

Enterprises seeking young talent stay in touch with university placement services directors. When businesses develop active collaboration with the placement center, they often get the pick of the new IT graduation crop. Being able to place students successfully in jobs upon graduation is a prime metric now in university placement centers. They know that students (and their tuition-paying parents) demand to see placement results when they are determining which college to attend.

4: Internships and field work

In progressive years of study, universities often look for businesses to provide summer or in-semester internships to IT students that allow them to work on location at the business on an actual IT job or project that becomes part of their coursework. By using internships of six to eight weeks, businesses can often determine the skillsets and aptitudes that individual students offer. They use the internship as a tryout to decide whether they want to hire a student fulltime after graduation.

5: Job market needs

In formulating their curricula, universities often have limited insights into the specific needs and job forecasts industry has. An enterprise can become a welcome business partner by sharing information on skills and job shortfalls with university program directors. This allows the directors to tailor course offerings that address the skills and job shortages that companies are hoping to solve. If a business actively collaborates with a learning institution, it also stands to benefit by being the first in line to interview the best students who are trained to fill the jobs it has open.

6: Technology donations

Companies that are in the technology industry can benefit by donating state-of-the-art equipment and technology to university IT labs. The students who "train up" on these technologies will be the future managers in companies with the tech buying decisions. They will likely remember the technology from their college IT labs when they buy.

7: Board and committee participation

Colleges and universities constantly seek out managers and experts from industry to serve on their advisory boards and committees. This is a good area for a business to participate in, because it gets to know the key decision makers within the university systems and to build collaborative relationships that can benefit the company with future employees who have the exact skillsets the company is looking for.

8: Collaborative projects

A number of key projects are going on in big data and analytics across the country that pair the computer science departments of major universities with major enterprise players in industries like finance, pharmaceuticals, insurance, and healthcare. The enterprise gains the benefit of computer science graduate students who are experts in developing analytics algorithms and running them against big data; the university gains the benefit of working through some highly complex real-world problems.

9: Guest lectures and workshops

An enterprise can get its name out in the local student community by giving on-campus guest lectures or workshops on an aspect of IT. Students often remember these sessions, and down the line, it can influence them to accept the enterprise's job over other employment offers.

10: Continuing education for enterprise IT staff and managers

Enterprise IT continues to experience skills shortages in the "soft" areas (training, communications, etc.), as well as in business analysis/acumen and several other highly specialized tech areas, such as big data. Colleges and universities offer courses and certifications that can help IT'ers shore up their skills so they can return better value to the company.

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About Mary Shacklett

Mary E. Shacklett is president of Transworld Data, a technology research and market development firm. Prior to founding the company, Mary was Senior Vice President of Marketing and Technology at TCCU, Inc., a financial services firm; Vice President o...

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