From the classroom to the real world

By Paula Jacobs, InfoWorld |  Career

WHEN JOHN Hancock Financial Services in Boston needed additional IT staff to
handle software configuration management, Muriel Castronova didn't place a recruitment
advertisement in The Boston Globe or reassign current IT personnel. Instead, she found
a college student.

At John Hancock Financial Services, Northeastern University undergraduate students
in the Cooperative Education program perform data modeling, support application
software, administer the company's computerized tracking system, and handle software
configuration management.

"[The co-op program] helps free up our key people," says Castronova, senior systems
manager at John Hancock Financial. "It enables us to get more work out the door. It
takes some extra work off our plates."

It's a win-win situation for companies and students alike. Companies tap into a
pool of fresh talent. As for the students, school-to-work opportunities such as
Northeastern's Cooperative Education program prepare students for IT careers, providing
them with practical work experience and a better understanding of the business
world.

"It also provides the advantage of soft skills, such as dealing with business
partners and dealing with two to three managers in a matrix organization," Castronova
says. "It rounds out their skills and provides a practical application for what they
learn in school and more."

While Northeastern's program has been around for decades, school-to-work programs
are gaining in popularity as a way to address the worldwide shortage of skilled IT
workers. Businesses, high schools, and universities throughout the United State are
partnering with IT associations to change the image of IT education, recognizing the
importance of starting at an early age. Although these partnerships between independent
organizations and businesses help solve the staffing shortage, such efforts are just a
start down a path that calls for more concerted outreach efforts.

University and high school partnerships

As part of the struggle to promote IT skills early on and increase training
availability while in school, high schools and universities are teaming up with local
businesses.

At the Southern Methodist University (SMU) School of Engineering, students and
staff members in the Advanced Computer Education Center are working with high school
students and teachers in both Dallas and Houston. The goals are to introduce high
school students to the IT profession, encourage them to study computer science in
college, and familiarize teachers with opportunities and technologies so that they
teach more computer courses.

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