Mobile developers may be in high demand, but mobile-app companies say they're reluctant to hire recent grads. While universities say their graduates are well prepared to enter the tech workforce, mobile-app companies disagree.
"There is a lack of people coming out of schools with skills that we need for the real world," said Ken Rimple, director of education at Philadelphia-based enterprise application development consulting firm Chariot Solutions.
What Rimple has noticed, even in the interview process, is that new graduates have no real understanding of deep software development. Nonetheless, Rimple is not surprised that graduates come out of college lacking the necessary skills.
"Five to six years ago, there was no mobile market like there is today," he said.
In addition to being a nascent market, mobile-app development is a rapidly changing landscape with tiny waves of changes in programming languages, device specifications and marketplace trends, Rimple said. "I don't know that the academic community can turn that around fast enough to modify their curriculum to focus on technology — that's still emerging. So I think that's really part of the problem," he said.
To fill the IT skills gap, there needs to be a three-way partnership among students, their schools and the tech industry, Rimple said. While students need to be more proactive in seeking out opportunities outside the classroom, universities and tech companies must also forge partnerships to give students the skills, training and real-world experience they need to be prepared for employer expectations.
First, Rimple encouraged students to focus on learning more about mobile development from those who are actually in the field. While in school, they should seek internships to gain real-world experience and check out meet-up groups, associations and organizations where they can speak with people who can give them practical advice about the profession.
"Finding a way to get mentoring is huge," he said. At a recent hiring event, Rimple found that very few college graduates had the basic skills for mobile development. A mentorship, he said, could have made all the difference. "A leg up with someone a little older with more experience is all you really need to get and stay on the right path," Rimple said.
However, someone needs to provide students with these opportunities.
Tracey Welson-Rossman, founder of TechGirlz, a nonprofit organization that helps young women explore careers in technology, said a career in tech starts with a foundation that goes beyond attending classes and doing homework.
"Technology skills need to be practiced, not just discussed," Welson-Rossman said. By offering events, classes, mentors and other resources, TechGirlz provides hands-on, interactive learning to give participants a real-world perspective of tech as a profession. This exposure also gives them a better understanding of what aspect of the profession they'd like to pursue, she said.
This is the type of applied training that college students need in order to be prepared for the workforce, and schools and tech companies should provide this training, Rimple said.
Rimple said universities can start by reaching out to more tech companies and tech professionals to sponsor events, provide mentorships and offer internships. They should also make sure that student interns are actually performing job-related duties that will give them the practical skills that employers seek.
"Universities need to produce people who can hit the ground running," he said."If you're a computer-science major and going into an internship and not doing any programming, I think that's a failing on the university's part."
But tech companies also have a responsibility to help students fulfill their potential, as well as to train new graduates for job-specific skills.
"Why would we expect that students who just left college would be prepared to step right into highly specific jobs without any training or ramp-up time?" asked Peter Cappelli, George W. Taylor professor of management at The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania and director of the school's center for human resources.
In his book, "Why Good People Can't Get Jobs: The Skills Gap and What Companies Can Do About It," Cappelli addressed the paradox of companies struggling to find the employees they need amid high unemployment. One of the reasons this paradox exists is that there is a training gap between what new graduates have to offer and employer expectations.
Cappelli compared tech jobs, particularly mobile development, to other fields. "Doctors have years of practical training postmedical school before they are allowed to touch patients; accountants and lawyers serve effectively as apprentices for years as well."
"Should we expect colleges to take over that responsibility for employers, especially those with a specific set of skill requirements for mobile-app development?" Cappelli said.
The solution, Rimple said, is for tech companies to partner with university career centers and offer more opportunities for students to receive professional guidance and gain day-to-day experience.
"We're all complaining about this lack of technologists, right? We're all saying there aren't enough people out there," he said. "Well, isn't that kind of our fault?"
Another glaring problem is that the companies that do offer internship or training programs aren't taking full advantage of students' skills.
"There are a lot of students interning for startups, and they're doing all sorts of tasks — just not programming," Rimple pointed out. "Internships have to be a two-way street: Yes, the intern provides labor for your project to a degree, but they have to come away with more skills than they started with; they have to come away with practice. As an industry, we could do a better job."