Technology firms often don't consider recent grads when they have openings
Aug 05, 2012 (Menafn - The Press of Atlantic City - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) --Ben Brotsker was already in the job market when he decided to go back to school for a degree in computer science and information systems.
"I've always loved working on computers, and I wanted to get into the field," the 28-year-old Longport resident said.
But for recent college graduates, which Brotsker will be next year, it can be difficult to find employment in the technology field, even with available jobs.
A survey of 148 New Jersey technology companies released earlier this month by the New Jersey Technology Council found that the biggest obstacles they face is finding qualified workers and funding career development.
But about half of the companies also admitted to not actively recruiting local college students or returning veterans, as well as not taking advantage of government-sponsored employment credits.
"We see a lot of students coming out of local colleges, but the things they are trained in are not up to par with the technology needs of a small company like ours," said Ajay Gupte, president of the Linwood-based CLCD LLC, which produces children's literature databases for libraries, parents and teachers. "We would have to train them and bring them up to speed just so they could work for us, but the cost to do that is difficult for us to bear."
Maxine Ballen, founder and CEO of the technology council, argued otherwise.
Ballen said the problem is a lack of communication rather than a lack of qualified workers.
"For many years there has been a disconnect between our technology community and our higher education institutions. It's not due to a lack of interest, but rather an inability to know how to connect."
According to data released in December by the state Department of Labor and Workforce Development, the state's technology cluster accounted for 313,000 jobs, or about 10 percent of the state's work force. But those numbers represent more than a 9 percent drop in technology jobs since the industry's 2007 peak of 345,108.
Almost 63 percent of the people in the cluster held a bachelor's degree or higher, which was reflected in their wages. The average annual salary for people in the technology cluster was more than 100,000 in 2010, or about 180 percent of the statewide average of 55,742.
Brotsker chose to enroll at Richard Stockton College because it was close to home and offered a modern curriculum.
"They make sure students are given practical information and given guidance on what they need to know to get a job," he said. It's not just learning from a book here, it's learning what companies want you to know."
Aakash Taneja, an associate professor for Stockton's CSIS program, said the college graduates about 50 students with CSIS degrees each year.
"They are absolutely qualified to go into the job market," Taneja said.
Taneja said the faculty regularly communicates with members of the technology industry to help determine the CSIS curriculum. Staff also works with students individually to help prepare them for their specific career goals.
"I tell my students that they have to market themselves and prepare themselves for the field they want to work in," Taneja said. "If they want to work as a medical technician, taking some medical-related courses could help set them apart from others."
Yet, like Gupte, more than 45 percent of the businesses surveyed said they do not recruit recent college graduates or offer entry-level positions.
"They prefer candidates to have some experience," the survey found.
Walter Tarver III, the director of Stockton's Career Center, said this was not always the case.
"In the late 90s there was still a lot of interested from technology recruiters, but post 9/11 a lot of recruiters in general have really cut back on going to campus," said Tarver, who blamed this trend on the economy. "The current economy has caused a lot of companies to slash their recruiting budgets and a lot just recruit online now."
But Tarver said that this does not mean that all technology companies are ignoring colleges.
"Where we see more diversity here is with our online career management system, where companies can post job opportunities," he said. "It's a more fiscally thrifty way to recruit than sending two or three recruiters to campus for a day and paying registration fees."
While Brotsker said he is confident in the education he is receiving from Stockton -- including working for the college's student help desk for additional work-related experience -- he admitted to being slightly concerned about entering the workforce upon graduation.
"There are not as many options in South Jersey as there are other places in the state," Brotsker said. "I already have an idea of what I'll need to do to get hired, but for now I'm just going to keep working as hard as I can to make myself stand out."
Another disappointment was that a majority of the companies surveyed said they were unaware of the robust talent pool of veterans, Ballen said. About 74 percent of the companies admitted that they rarely, if ever, participate in job fairs for veterans.
"A lot of these returning veterans are more than skilled and more than qualified to work in our technology businesses," she said. "These are workers who have been displaced from their own network, the military, and are eager to work. But, again, there's a lack of awareness on how to connect with them."
But Gupte said this is not due an unwillingness to hire veterans.
"I've found veterans generally more disciplined, have more of a work ethic, are better trained and understand the value of work more than people coming straight out of college," Gupte said. "We don't go searching for veterans, but if one comes through the door we do look to hire them."
Even though the survey highlighted some deficiencies, Ballen said it could have positive results.
"I think it increased the number of employers interested in hiring displaced veterans and looking at ways to connect with higher education institutions. And I think we will see more effort on the part of the business community moving forward," Ballen said. "I like tourism; it's an important industry for the state of New Jersey. But we are the future."
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