Some time ago, I was asked to create a strategy document to increase the participation of women in post-secondary technology programs.  Declining enrolments in traditional computer and technical programs have been a concern of the educational community for some time.  There has been a corresponding concern within the business sector with an increasing demand for qualified IT resources.  The two elements: declining enrolments contrasted with increasing demand, have seemed at odds with the basic principles of  resource supply and demand.  Generally, where there is high demand for a role, there is also a related increased interest in training for that role.  Why the disconnect with IT?  

One of the unchallenged explanations for decreasing resources has been the limited number of women participating in technology programs, (for a variety of reasons that I will not go into here).  The assumed solution to this has been to attract more women into technology and computer programs in an effort to expand the talent pool and build greater industry resource capacity.  Interestingly, these strategies have had limited or short term success, if at all.  Despite funding, marketing and program restructuring, women and men are equally displaying a lack of interest in pursuing formal computer and technology education, to the frustration and puzzlement of academic institutions.

Examining this environment and the factors involved, I reached some very different conclusions as to strategies to reverse the trend. My examination of this issue revealed some interesting information: although business and industry were clamouring for more ‘IT resources’, there were more and more ‘IT resources’ either unable to find jobs or losing jobs.  Technology and computer program grads were finding it difficult to secure even entry level positions.  Business wanted more IT staff, but the available IT resources weren’t who they wanted; clearly there was a disconnect in how the term ‘IT resources’ was being used across the sectors.  The IT roles that business needs aren’t produced by the computer and technology training provided within the existing post-secondary programs.  Demand for these roles is decreasing as technology is consolidated and converged, and frequently needs are being filled by off-shore providers more economically and efficiently.  As technology infrastructure and telecom moves into the ‘assumed utility’  status, the technical computer training needed has become less high profile and less appealing to students as a career choice. 

The business demand for ‘IT resources’ is focused on a different skills set:  business and technology knowledge workers.  These are the new ‘IT resources’, not the computer programmers and network specialists.  Business is finding these new IT resources not in the computer and technology programs, but rather coming out of the business, management, science and communications programs.  Individuals with technology knowledge acquired through experience and personal development, combined with formal academic instruction in specific areas of business or industry specialization, are the high-demand, highly valued, new ‘IT resources’.  In particular, the highest demand has been on business analysis and business process expertise, and for understanding business strategy and planning as it related to technology decisions. 

So what did I conclude about strategies to increase the participation of women in technology programs?  The short answer: don’t.   It turns out that women have been moving into the newly defined IT roles from other academic programs even though (or perhaps because) they had been avoiding the traditional ‘computer/technology’ path – and there are indications that men are beginning to follow the same route.  Rather than investing more funds, marketing resources and energy into promoting the traditional IT programs, post-secondary institutions should be building more technology focused components into their other programs for all students.  The solution to the IT skills shortage isn’t to create more specialized technicians, but to incorporate the basic understanding of the role of technology, skills development and the process of enablement into all knowledge areas.   If we do this, we can quickly address the  IT resource shortage by making all graduates prospects within their particular business or industry! 

Sounds an awful lot like Business/IT Alignment to me!

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