Purdue grows its own computer techies;
lauded as national model
WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. Purdue University is solving its problem of filling the growing number of computer-related positions on campus by "developing its own" in an unusual program that has captured national attention.
"Three years ago we decided to attack our hiring problems by looking for people in other professions with the aptitude to do the job and an interest in changing careers, rather than constantly competing for the limited national pool of information technology professionals," said Laverne Knodle, executive director of Management Information. "We found many people from other backgrounds with the personal skills and aptitudes that would make them successful in our organization. All we had to do was provide a means for them to acquire the necessary technical skills."
The National Association of College and University Business Officers this month honored the Purdue program as a national model in its annual Higher Education Awards Program. The awards recognize initiatives at higher education institutions that improve services, reduce expenditures or generate revenue. Purdue's program was selected from 45 entries for an award worth $7,500.
Purdue started its program three years ago as the university began hiring more computer staff. "It was particularly important for us to take action because on the West Lafayette campus 26 percent of the vacancies were computer-related jobs," Knodle said. "We generally do not offer the salaries available in the private sector, so the shortage is actually compounded for us. Computer-related jobs are being created at a faster rate than new people are being trained for the profession, so the shortage may just get worse."
People selected for the Purdue program are either new applicants from outside the university, staff who leave their existing position or current staff sponsored by their university department.
"Everyone entering the program must demonstrate potential ability for writing computer programs by scoring well on an aptitude test, although no one needs to have any previous programming experience," Knodle said. "We then look for people with the personal skills needed for the job. In fact, we find that 'soft skills' like interpersonal communications, problem-solving and teamwork are as important as the technical skills. These skills are the ones that allow them to apply their technical skills in ways that effectively help others."
Those who have completed the program and moved on into information technology positions at Purdue include an admissions office clerk who now manages departmental databases, and an assistant manager from the Purdue Union Club Hotel who has served as an application system administrator and is now moving to a UNIX system administration position in Management Information.
About 150 people submit resumes for the program each January. Only a dozen or so are selected to participate, said Carole Kemmer, Human Resources Manager for Management Information. "The screening process includes a computer programming aptitude test and target selection interviews with a team of Purdue's current information technology staff," she said. "About half of the participants already work at Purdue. Women have accounted for 60 percent of the successful participants."
Participants take six regular university courses over a three-month period taught by faculty from Purdue's Department of Computer Technology. The cost of the classes is funded by the Office of the Executive Vice President and Treasurer. After completing the classes, the sponsored staff member returns to his or her department with new skills to apply to his or her job.
The trainees hired from outside the university work on computer projects under the supervision of full-time information technology professionals for six months after the classes end. Once these projects are successfully completed, the trainee is placed in a position. Any participant who leaves the university in less than two years is required to pay for the academic part of the program.
Purdue's Information Systems and Technology Training Program has helped about three dozen people start new careers in information technology over it's three years of existence. It is a cooperative effort among Management Information, Personnel Services and the Department of Computer Technology. More information about the Information System and Technology Education Programs can be found on the web.
The National Association of College and University Business Officers, founded in 1962, is a nonprofit professional organization representing chief administrative and financial officers at more than 2,100 colleges and universities across the country.
Sources: Laverne Knodle, (765) 494-4317; email@example.com
Carole Kemmer, (765) 494-6116, firstname.lastname@example.org
Writer: J. Michael Willis, (765) 494-0371; email@example.com
Purdue News Service: (765) 494-2096; firstname.lastname@example.org
To the Purdue News and Photos Page