POWER > Business Strategy > Competitive Advantage

IBM Academic Initiative Connects Enterprises and Skilled Graduates


Your IT department has a problem. It’s not the computing platform—you’ve got a couple of POWER7* boxes running mixed workloads so your call center has access to real-time customer data, your logistics group has full visibility into your supply chain and your management team gets business intelligence as fast as it’s requested. Virtualization capabilities courtesy of PowerVM* technology allow departments as varied as marketing and software development to quickly and automatically provision virtual servers for as long as they need—and free up the resources when they’re done.

“Tell us what you need, and we can start altering our curriculum or offering classes. In the meantime, we may already have people for you.”
—Bob Nields, professor at Cincinnati State Technical and Community College in Ohio

Your IT department runs mean and lean, with the highest possible availability and security. The problem isn’t your platform; it’s your people.

The baby boomers who cut their teeth on RPG and AS/400* are nearing retirement age. Meanwhile, today’s students are hot to design mobile applications or learn .NET. Ironically, jobs are at a premium in this economy, yet you’re concerned you won’t be able to hire the support staff you need. Worry not—IBM is already addressing the problem. One strategy is its Academic Initiative, a program designed to help colleges and universities train your next group of specialists on IBM hardware and software so they can hit the ground running.

“I’m hearing from real customers and business partners who are worried about a shortage of skilled IT staff in the future,” says Peter Glass, program manager of the Power Systems* Academic Initiative at IBM. “Meanwhile, my university contacts say they’ve got students who are learning IBM technology and need jobs. We need a way to bring the two together, and we are doing that through the Academic Initiative.”

Taking the Initiative

IBM recognized the problem posed by the graying workforce years ago. It launched the Academic Initiative to meet the skills challenge head-on. As part of the program, IBM works with schools and universities around the globe, supplying them with free access to the same IBM Power Systems courseware used to train IBM users supporting IBM i, AIX* and even Linux*. Schools can install the courseware on their own machines or access the dedicated Academic Initiative POWER7 server at no cost. Professors—many of whom are former IBMers or Power Systems experts—may use the courseware as is, modify it or even write their own material from scratch, as Jim Buck did at Gateway Technical College in Wisconsin, according to Glass.

Currently, 140 schools worldwide offer courses and programs centered on the Power Systems platform. The support allows computer science departments to give students hands-on experience that can equip them to step into jobs and be productive from day one. “Over the past years, many graduates have been successful in using their computer science degrees to gain employment,” says Rick Flagler, adjunct professor at Keene State College in New Hampshire. “In particular, I can say that when I was IT manager at Timken, I attracted a number of KSC students to the company, some of whom are still employed there after five to 10 years.”

The specifics of the offerings vary. In some departments, the curriculum is centered on operations; elsewhere, the focus is on running business applications on the Power Systems platform. Some schools focus their tracks specifically on IBM while others ensure students come out with secondary skill sets. “We’ve heard companies need people who know not just RPG but PHP, Java*, .NET, and so on because IT departments are being structured in different ways today,” says Bob Nields, professor at Cincinnati State Technical and Community College in Ohio. “I have people graduating from my program who know RPG and Java and PHP, who know SQL server and DB2*.”

Kristin Lewotsky is a freelance technology writer based in Amherst, N.H.



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