Arizona Technology and Innovation: High Tech Workers

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Some states have too many high tech workers, some not enough. Arizona falls into the latter category. Find out why there’s a shortage of high tech workers in our state.

Ted Simons: 18 states including Arizona have more high-tech jobs than works to fill them. The problem, fewer students getting computer-related degrees. I recently talked about the situation with ASU information systems professor Raghu Santanam of the W.P. Carey School of Business. Thank you for joining us tonight on "Horizon."

Raghu Santanam: Thank you.

Ted Simons: Fewer high-tech graduates than open jobs. Even now?

Raghu Santanam: It is. It started with the dot com bust in 2000, and after that the students and parents both were worried about whether their kids would get jobs in the U.S., or whether those jobs would be outsourced or offshored elsewhere. So that's when we saw the drop in the number of students that were enrolling in our programs. Quite a bit. Quite a bit. And that's through nationally as well as in Arizona.

Ted Simons: Talk about Arizona now. It sounds like from the studies I've seen, we are -- the gap in Arizona is huge. Bigger than the national average by far.

Raghu Santanam: I'm not surprised. In our programs, we saw a drop that was more than 50%. Till at least recently. But finally we're now seeing an uptick in the number of students who are enrolling in our majors, so compared to 2008, we have about 20% more students in our information systems majors.

Ted Simons: Do you think that's because of the recession and students thought, hey this, is something that looks like it's going to be recession proof, and we might as well give it a shot?

Raghu Santanam: Possible. I think another trend was going around the same time that we began to publicize with our students that our majors get the highest starting salaries in the business school as well as the University. And we also made a concerted effort with our freshmen students as soon as they come to campus, that, look, this is a major that can get you to different places, it can put you right in the middle of your businesses where you are the go-to person.

Ted Simons: So from where you sit, are we seeing a lack of qualified students? Is there a lack of interested students? Is there a lack of opportunities for interested students to take classes and learn computer sciences and high-tech jobs, skills?

Raghu Santanam: I think it's more a lack of interest of students. We firmly have the capacity, even in Arizona if you look at our department, we are one of the largest information systems departments in the country. And we saw a sizable decrease in our enrollment, but now we can see that this improved.

Ted Simons: So it's interesting, do you think -- is it different in Arizona? Are the kids up in the Bay Area, Seattle, back in New England, D.C., the Midwest? Do you see a difference?

Raghu Santanam: There's no difference. Nationally it's been the trend. And we -- in the academic community we have discussed it, have thought of ways of improving enrollment and also going to the high school level and getting students to be interested in the technology ideas.

Ted Simons: Are you finding more students are becoming interested in high-tech areas?

Raghu Santanam: I believe so. And I think students are beginning to see the technology being everywhere, and we are living in an additional society, so that -- I think it's piquing their interest in terms of technology uses.

Ted Simons: We've got a job rich candidate starved industry, and I'm sure they're calling and you all other people out there that have had graduates ready to go. What are hiring managers looking for?

Raghu Santanam: They value technology skills, but they also at the same time value the communication skills. They want these candidates to be able to talk to the business people in their language, so that the complicated technology have communicated in a way that anyone can understand, so you build solutions that actually make sense to those business people.

Ted Simons: So it's almost as if you're wanting to write some sort of manual, some high-tech manual, you don't necessarily go to the English department, because they may be able to write, but not in this fashion, and thus when you go to -- look for somebody to communicate with business, you could be great on Oracle but you have to make that information clear.

Raghu Santanam: Right. And that's the way we have designed our major, to make sure we train our students in both the writing and the presentation skills as well as the basic business knowledge. Because that's extremely important given the technology permeates everything we do.

Ted Simons: I saw a study with the fastest growing skills, looks like Android, cloud, iphone, java script, these are what hiring managers are looking for along with the communication skills.

Raghu Santanam: Yes. I completely agree. Especially the cloud computing is a major trend. That's going to change how we look at IT jobs in the future.

Ted Simons: That brings up another question. How do you convince students who are working on one kind of high-tech skill that that particular skill is going to be marketable in three or four years the way this industry changes so quickly?

Raghu Santanam: I agree. The students should actually think about being in the top of the food chain. And the top of the food chain is not the technology skills per se, it's the ability to understand how these emerging technologies change and transform business. So the more they're intellectually immersed into those issues, they're able to better fit with any kind of technology that comes out in the future. It's not actually learning the new skills that come out in the market today or tomorrow --

Ted Simons: being adaptable.

Raghu Santanam: Yes.

Ted Simons: Last question, what would you like to see Arizona students, Arizona education, Arizona do to bridge this gap between so many available jobs and so few high-tech graduates?

Raghu Santanam: There has to be better communication between recruiters and academic institutions in Arizona. And I think we've been doing that, and we prompted in fact our students to get involved more with recruiters. So we invite our recruiters to interact directly with our students through our student clubs, we hold career fairs through our department, and that helps them to get to know the type of student they're getting, and in fact mentor them so they're ready for the jobs when they graduate. So we've had quite a bit of success in inviting executives from Intel, American Express, general electric, these folks came and talked to our students all of last year. And that's helped a great deal.

Ted Simons: All right. Very good. Thank you so much for joining us.

Raghu Santanam: Thank you for inviting me.

Ted Simons: Tomorrow on "Horizon," the new chairman of the board of regents talks about funding universities.

Ted Simons: And the Phoenix art museum is hosting a collection of Mexican art never before seen on this side of the border. That's Thursday at 7:00 on "Horizon."

Ted Simons: That is it for now. I'm Ted Simons. Thank you so much for joining us. You have a great evening.

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