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U.S. Colleges Turn to China for IT Training

New America Media, News Report, Donal Brown Posted: Oct 08, 2008

SAN MATEO, Calif. The United States, faced with a shortage of IT workers, is turning to China to train its students in information technology.

American colleges are seeking help from a Chinese scholar to design curricula to train students in the United States in crucial areas of information technology and database administration.

IBM, which made the announcement in September, hopes that this will provide them with a high-tech work force. The courses will also be taught to university students in China, who may be hired by companies like IBM that have prominent enterprises there.

The labor analysis firm, SkillPROOF, reports that in California alone, the average number of job openings for IT professionals in 2008 is 16,220. This represents a 60 percent increase since 2004. There are currently 140,000 IT job openings nationally. There is an additional incentive to find new workers as an entire generation of IT professionals reaches retirement age.

While technology training is the focus of courses at U.S. universities, Chinese universities will also emphasize working collaboratively, a skill that is required in many IT jobs.

Min Wang, who is pursuing a doctorate at Tongjii University in Shanghai, says that since most of the worlds largest companies maintain a presence in China, it is important for Chinese universities to educate their students in IT and business skills. But, he adds, they also need to learn to work cooperatively across borders.

IBM is heavily invested in China with its China Research Laboratory, established in 1995, and with Intel, which opened in 2006 to help China exploit its energy resources more efficiently. To make these enterprises successful, the companies will need well-trained Chinese nationals who excel in math and are able to collaborate with other workers.

The need for better communication skills, Wang says, poses a great challenge to Chinas traditional higher education, which usually emphasizes exams and has relied on textbooks for dozens of years.

To facilitate the development of appropriate curricula, Wang and another graduate student from Tongjii spent six months in Silicon Valley. They worked with Professor Teng Moh from San Jose State University and Hsiuying Cheng from IBM to develop a course in DB2 for System z database software integrated with mainframe to allow for data management and the various manipulations of information that help a business thrive.

IBM is taking the lead in developing this course and three others, and informing prospective students of these course offerings at California State Universities in San Francisco, San Jose, Long Beach and Sacramento. The courses will also be offered at Illinois State University in Normal, Ill. They will train students to be database developers, systems administrators and mainframe experts.

Every business, from IBM to a small 50-employee startup company, needs employees trained in IT. The data from all aspects of a companys operations including employee data, sales, stock, payroll, marketing, and research and development are fed into DB2 for System z and then analyzed through software applications.

Amy Cho, a San Jose State graduate student and IBM employee, says the training will be invaluable for students who need IT skills. Cho is studying for a career in database quality assurance. She will learn more than simple language for the DB2 query system, including how information is pulled up and which information to filter out. It takes a lot of computing power so from the courses I learn how to filter out the information we dont want, she said.

At a recent press conference, company representatives and university professors from San Jose and San Francisco State Universities emphasized the importance of close collaboration of industry and academia to develop IT curricula. Much progress has been made in this area according to Professor Stephen Kwan of San Jose State. To make sure their courses met the needs of changing demands of the business world, universities used to hire survey companies, but companies are now taking the initiative to provide that information.

Cho says she gained much from the close relationship of San Jose State and IBM when she enrolled in the first course under development. Dr. Gene Fuh of IBM came and taught the course on DB2 and told us how he would approach problems, and it gave us great insight, she says.

Representatives from industry and universities agreed that it was crucial to get students involved in IT who were not only hard-working but had communication, problem-solving and decision-making skills. Both San Jose and San Francisco State Universities educate students by assigning them real world projects. Some companies even outsource their problems to universities through offices like the Center for Business Solutions at San Francisco State University.

The courses being developed by IBM and the universities to train students will be offered by the fall of 2009.

Min Wang stresses how important the collaboration has been for China. Sharing the educational resource is especially important to the universities in developing countries like China, where the most advanced resources are less accessible, she says. Wang hopes that the courses developed in IBMs Silicon Valley Lab will also be adopted by the Ministry of Education and spread to universities throughout China.

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