IT talents: The 'Unemployed' and the 'Unemployable'
Our generation of IT talents:
The 'Unemployed' and the 'Unemployable'
STRAITS TIMES Singapore
Saturday, November 30, 2002
Firm discovers good IT help hard to find
Malaysia's IT graduates cannot string together enough programming code to win a top job. Employers want changes
By Leslie Lau
JONATHAN Searcy has tried everything over the years to hire good software programmers, from the traditional interview process to conducting written tests.
But most candidates were just not up to scratch.
So this year, the 42-year-old senior vice-president of Information Technology for Malaysia's Genting group, decided on a radical approach.
He organised a contest with the prize - cash and a lucrative job with the research and development arm of Malaysia's giant casino and resorts operator.
'Still the results are not encouraging,' Mr Searcy told The Straits Times.
'I think it should provide a reality check for students and colleges offering IT courses in this country.'
A total 122 applicants, mostly fresh graduates and some undergraduates as well, turned up for the contest last week.
They were given eight hours to write software and provide solutions for one or more of four business situations. But the results provide a telling indictment of the kind of technology-related courses offered by universities and colleges here.
Fifty people had left before lunch.
Of the rest, a preliminary review of the results showed only three gave what the company considered credible answers.
'The results should provide feedback to educational institutes on how well their students perform when put in a real software development situation,' Mr Searcy said.
The outcome of the contest was only marginally better than when the company used a written test to screen candidates. Then, not one credible answer was returned.
The contestants were asked to write software for various situations related to Genting's business, from recovery of old data to communication with its cruise ships and even a traffic light system.
'When you look at the cocktail of skills needed to write software, obviously you need to know programming language but you need analytical skills too, something the students here are lacking,' he said.
The problem, say IT experts in some foreign companies here, is that Malaysia's technological push in recent years has placed too much emphasis on entrepreneurship rather than the basic knowledge needed to solve every day problems.
'Every IT student here seem to think they can start up a dot.com and make money. It is very superficial,' an expatriate computer engineer told The Straits Times.
He said most companies operating in Malaysia were still forced to hire expatriates because Malaysians were still wanting in basic and analytical skills.
An official with a major head hunting firm told The Straits Times that they were not surprised at the novel approach taken by Genting, pointing out that there is a dearth of 'right candidates' for jobs in the IT sector.
The government's stress on developing a technology related economy has seen an explosion of private colleges offering IT related courses but most of them are far from cutting edge.
'Many Malaysian students choose to attend courses at these small colleges where you can practically get a diploma online,' Miss Christine Siew, the IT department manager of HELP Institute told The Straits Times.
HELP Institute is one of the few local colleges here offering degree-level IT courses in partnership with foreign universities.
It has also received a grant from Apple for its students to develop Web applications as well as a host of internship programmes which Miss Siew says gives students the 'real life experiences' needed for jobs like those offered by Genting.
Mr Searcy said: 'The job of a programmer only requires skills that are borderline sophisticated in nature. We are not rocket scientists.'
How Genting group conducted contest to recruit
Write software for scenarios related to a company's business, from recovery of old data and communicating with its cruise ships, to a traffic light system.
The top three place-getters receive cash prizes and a lucrative job with the research and development arm of the Genting group, Malaysia's giant casino and resorts operator.
Just three out of 122 contestants gave what the company considered credible answers.
The results were marginally better than when the company used a written test to screen candidates. Then, not one credible answer was given.
IT experts say Malaysia's technological push places too much emphasis on entrepreneurship, sacrificing basic problem-solving skills.