College wants technology pros to polish people skills

Company managers are coming to expect more from IT pros the information technology professional casually referred to as "the computer guy." Hard technical skills are not at issue; it's the softer side of interpersonal communications that are at issue.

Tech schools need to change the way they prepare students to be productive in the business world because business needs are broader than what's taught.

So says Cheryle Schaum, sales manager at JFG Systems Inc.

"The reality is that IT doesn't know how to communicate with business owners," she says. "Business owners, who think they've hired a CIO (chief information officer), find out the new hire is just a broken-fix guy".

Next fall, a seminar series may help to change that, says Fred Crooks, instructor at Truckee Meadows Community College. He's working to arrange a seminar series that will bring in a monthly speaker to talk about the role of IT in business.

The one-hour talks at the Dandini campus would be free to the public, says Crooks. Meanwhile, students would incorporate the presentations into their for-credit classes.

JFG is partnering with TMCC and will contact companies such as Hewlett-Packard, SonicWall, and Microsoft to arrange for speakers on the IT business scene, says Schaum.

Ron Baker, chief executive officer of JFG Systems, hooked up with Crooks at a networking event hosted by the Center for Entrepreneurship and Technology.

But a far more ambitious program is in the works at Truckee Meadows Community College a two-year program that also serves as a seamless pathway to a four-year degree.

The community college currently offers a technical associate degree that does not lead to a four-year degree, says Crooks.

"Many of our career programs don't translate because they are oriented toward hands-on technology while a four-year degree is more focused on theory," says Crooks.

But employers, he adds, want people with a broader background. That means more emphasis on business management and interpersonal communications.

The Nevada System of Higher Education is using a grant from the National Science Foundation to study ways to make it happen. At a meeting this week, planners will start to hammer out the structure. It will be a broad conversation, says Crooks, and will include people from the business world. The new program will require instructors get up to speed.


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