Monday, 3 May 2010

Students at Work

The Information Technology market in Buenos Aires has been changing for a while and continues to evolve. Many factors have both contributed to and changed the technology environment around
the world including Argentina. Consequently, as the environment changes employers, students,and universities all need to adapt to those changes.

In our country, and especially in the city of Buenos Aires, there's a large variety of options if you want to study any degree related to IT or Information Systems at the university.
There are primarily two educational paths one can choose to get an IT degree. One of the options is to get a degree from a public university. Public universities are free in Argentina, meaning that you don't need to pay a fee to attend the classes. Examples such as UTN 'Universidad Tecnologica Nacional' (officially founded in 1959) and UBA 'Universidad de Buenos Aires' (founded in 1821) both have a very good reputation for companies when hiring new employees.
The second option, private universities, offer more comfortable facilities for students as well as continuously updated study plans that let them develop skills that are part of the current market trends. The cost of this option is of course higher for the students (around $AR 200 - per subject, plus exams fees.) Interestingly, not all of the private universities have a good reputation with
employers in our country.

Today, many IT offices are seeing more full-time employees who also are full-time university students and there are several reasons why we see this growing trend.
First of all, the high need of IT experts in the market makes it hard to find employees who have already received their degree at the university who are not yet part of other companies’ staff. As a result, employers have started adapting the corporate environment to the IT climate by hiring students and giving them support to get their degree and become professionals while working within their company.

With that new context in the IT market, changes also took place in the students’ mindset. It is now more desirable and valuable to be a graduated professional with experience at real work in a company instead of a professional who has his/her degree but no experience. Having this marketability is one of the primary reasons many students nowadays decide to start working before getting their degrees.

This supply and demand context is so strong in our IT market, that universities also have adapted their study plans to ensure the professionals they form not only have high theoretical knowledge, but also real working experience. As an example, since 2006, UTN has a new mandatory subject as part of the study plan that requires students to get access to a real project bigger than 200 hours at any company with a full report due at the end. For those students who already have a job, they can choose to use their company for the project. If the students don’t have a job, the university has developed relationships with other contact companies with an infrastructure in place for students to work as temporary employees.
The consequence of this is that employee starting ages are really low in comparison to other countries, with average ages starting from around 20 years old.
Another key reason why students decide to be both full-time employees and full-time students is because of the economic situation. Private universities in particular, as mentioned before are not cheap and public universities, even though they provide free lessons, students must be able to afford the study materials and living expenses.

The main benefit of studying and working at the same time is that IT people here have the chance to start their career very soon after secondary school and everything learned at a university can be easily applied at work and vice-versa. That makes the learning experience much more useful by having theoretical knowledge applied to the real world. Thus, after getting their degrees, many professionals have some years of experience at work.
The main con I see with this work/study trend is that although students are entering the workforce earlier, students are finishing their degrees at the university later. Nowadays, the average age at which students get their Information System and IT degrees is around 26 years old (non-official data) with study plans planned for 5 years long at public universities.

Besides this, doing both of the things at the same time can cause great stress to people who work full time (usually 9 hours at the office and 4 hours at the university everyday), making that a real challenge for individuals at the beginning of their career.

In my opinion, this whole picture is changing every moment and will still keep on changing for a while, with employers, universities, students and people all adding something different to the equation. I guess there will be a lot more to tell in a few years when the new generation of students gets to the point where they can help set or respond to the rules of the new market.

(Thanks MK for helping on the spelling)


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Daniel Zuazaga said...