Journal of Applied Computing and Information Technology

ISSN 2230-4398, Volume 12, Issue 1, 2008

Incorporating the NACCQ publications:
Bulletin of Applied Computing and Information Technology, ISSN 1176-4120
Journal of Applied Computing and Information Technology, ISSN 1174-0175

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Box Refereed Article A1:

A case study of desired attributes for success within the ICT sector

Mehdi Asgarkhani
Christchurch Polytechnic Institute of Technology, New Zealand
asgarkhanim@cpit.ac.nz

Jun Wan
Christchurch Polytechnic Institute of Technology, New Zealand
wanj@cpit.ac.nz

Asgarkhani, M. & Wan, J. (2008). A case study of desired attributes for success within the ICT sector. Journal of Applied Computing and Information Technology, 12(1). Retrieved January 27, 2022 from http://www.citrenz.ac.nz/jacit/JACIT1201/2008Asgarkani_CaseStudy.html

Abstract

This paper examines attributes (soft skills) that are perceived as being critical to success within the ICT sector. The required attributes as identified by a study of 205 randomly selected ICT positions are compared with students' perception (based on a pilot study of a focus group of students). Overall, it is not possible to draw clear conclusions from the outcome of one case study only. However, we were able to identify some preliminary trends and identify a number of key factors for future studies.

Introduction

Within the past decade, we have witnessed rapid advancements in Information Communications and Technology (ICT) solutions. The most significant technological advancement of the recent years has been that of Web technologies and the Internet. Today, most organizations deal with complex information and sophisticated information management approaches and systems on a daily basis. Furthermore, the business environment has become globalized which has in turn increased complexity and competitiveness. This has meant that organizations are driven into the digital world. That is to say, to deliver products and/or services in a timely and cost effective manner (and remain competitive), firms have had to increasingly streamline business processes by the application of advanced ICT and Web-based solutions.

As the application of ICT enabled tools and web technologies in organizations accelerates (Harper, 2003; Industry Report, 1999; Pye & The Marchmont Observatory, 2000; Zyngier, 2003), there is a growing need for an ICT-knowledgeable workforce. Organizations need skilled information analysts, information mangers, designers and developers of information management solutions. Overall, skilled ICT workers play a significant role in the day-to-day management of businesses. However, over the past few years, there has been much debate over whether or not technical skills are sufficient to guarantee success within the ICT sector. More specifically, numerous ICT sector strategists, planners and recruitment experts argue that technical skills are not sufficient to secure success in employment. A review of a number of recent cases of recruiting ICT workers, suggests that there is an increasing expectation that ICT workers possess certain personal attributes to complement their technical expertise (Hasanali, 2000).

In 2006 a project was initiated to investigate key issues that concern the effectiveness (developing work-ready graduates) of ICT education within New Zealand. The preliminary results of this study identified key skills and personal attributes (amongst other parameters) as evident from the ICT sector's employment needs. Furthermore, the project involved a pilot study (case study) of a focus group of graduating students (35) of two ICT tertiary qualifications (a Bachelor of ICT program and a Graduate Diploma in ICT program). The study of the focus group aimed at validating research questions, clarifying key issues/trends and fine tuning methodology and/or research questions for future investigations. Some of the initial results of this study were published earlier (Asgarkhani & Wan, 2007).

The key research question for the study is as follows:

"To what extent does graduating ICT students' view of crucial attributes for ICT roles match ICT sector employers' view of winning attributes for ICT workers?"

This paper discusses the results of the pilot study mentioned earlier. Some of the key issues that will be addressed include:

Research Methodology

This paper outlines the results of a pilot study of key attributes within the ICT job sector. It compares these results with a study of a focus group of students about their view of winning attributes for the roles within the ICT sector. The results discussed in this paper are based on data collected from four sources:

Analysis of Preliminary Findings

In this section of the paper, we discuss the preliminary results of this case study. Table 1 shows the top 10 attributes ranked by industry and the student survey. Column one in Table 1 is a summary of the results from the study of the ICT job sector (skills and attributes requirements) and demonstrates the top 10 attributes required in ICT job market, as determined by evaluating 205 (randomly selected) jobs/roles within the

ICT sector. Column two illustrates students' view of the attributes that are required to be a successful ICT worker. Column three outlines students' perception of attributes they possessed at the time of the study. Column four shows students' view of attributes that facilitate successful ICT studies within the tertiary sector. Finally, column five illustrates attributes that have either been further developed or improved on during (as a result of) the course of studies (students' views).

Table 1. Top 10 Attributes as ranked by industry and students

By comparing columns one and two, we can see that students' view of"attributes that help to be a better ICT worker" and achieve a better result in their future workplace (column two), mostly match the attributes required in ICT job market (column one). However, some mismatch also exists. For example, problem solving is seen by students as the most important attribute to be a successful ICT worker, whereas it is not included in the top 10 attributes as evaluated by the industry. It is surprising that attributes of being a quick learner and being commercially aware are not seen as being crucial by the job market while students rate them as being amongst the top 10. This may indicate that students are aware that ongoing learning and the ability to provide ICT solutions for businesses are critical to their future success.

At this point in time, it is difficult to say why this "match and mismatch" exists, as these results are from studying one focus group only. Some of the reasons may include communication of key job market issues to students by teaching staff; students' awareness of key attributes through self-learning (such as general reading, industry reports and job advertisements); students confusing requirements for academic studies with what is needed in reality within the job market.

By comparing columns one and three we could possibly say this focus group may not be seen as a group that is 'work ready'. Five of the top 10 attributes that students claim they possess (problem solving, quick learner, creative, strong ethic and handle pressure) are not seen as being amongst the top 10 attributes by the job market.

By comparing columns one and five, we can see that the attributes that students think they have improved on (or developed) during the course of their studies are still not consistent with the attributes needed by employers. More specifically, five of the improved attributes (problem solving, handling pressure, multi-tasking, strategic thinker and quick learner) are not seen as being the top 10 attributes by the job market. One might argue that the case study indicates that academic studies have not helped in improving (or developing) students' attributes that meet the industry needs. However, this is the outcome of one case study only and cannot be generalized.

Finally, this study highlights some of the issues that may be worthwhile studying (investigating) further. These could include:

On a different note, it is fairly easy to understand why handling pressure and multi-tasking have been improved on. It could be a result of students

doing three or four papers at the same time. It is also interesting to see that strategic thinker is identified as an improved attribute. This could indicate that the focus group of students involved may have recently completed a course in ICT management.

By comparing columns two (students' view of required attributes for success as an ICT worker) and four (students' view of attributes that help success in studies) we can observe little inconsistency. More specifically handling pressure and leadership are seen as attributes needed for studies while people relations and commercial awareness are seen as attributes that are needed to be a successful ICT worker. This may indicate that students see that attributes needed for studies are not necessarily different from attributes needed for the workplace. However, it is interesting to note that students see leadership as an attribute that can lead to success in their studies. Students note handling pressure as being critical to success in studies. Once again, this could be due to students having to study three or four papers and complete the required assessments at the same time (that may be seen as having to handle pressure).

Looking at the results that are outlined in all five columns, we can see that communication, being a team worker and attention to details appeared in all columns (selected as top 10 attributes). Communication was rated as top attribute in four of five columns (not in column two).

Furthermore, attention to details is ranked seventh (from top) in four of five columns - once again, column two being an exception. On the other hand, being a mentor and customer focus are only seen as relevant by ICT employers - as students make no mention of them. This may indicate lack of job market maturity in the focus group that was studied.

Overall, in this case study, despite some mismatches, the students' view of winning attributes that lead to success in the industry are mostly in agreement with what ICT job market views as being key attributes.

Finally, we tried to validate students' view of attributes they either developed or improved on. We assessed five Bachelor of ICT and

Graduate diploma in ICT courses (three level 7 and two level 6 courses). These courses were rated against any of the eighteen attributes we find in Table 1 - namely: communication skills, people relations, team worker, leadership, can-do attitude, self-motivated, attention to details, organization, mentor, customer focus, commercial awareness, quick learner, problem solving, creative, strong work ethic, handle pressure, multi-tasking and strategic thinker. The rating was done by one graduate and one teaching staff who had considerable experience in planning, designing and delivery of the papers mentioned earlier.

The rating for each attribute (as related to a specific course) ranged from zero to five, as shown in Table 2.

Table 2. Ratings for assessing impact of courses on attributes

The outcome of the evaluation of those courses considered for this experiment can be summarised as follows:

This was a simple experiment in order to test the methodology and its feasibility/validity for validating students' perception of developing or strengthening attributes during the course of studies. The framework for this test has been fine-tuned. We will be investigating a larger number of courses (assessed by a larger group of students, graduates and other experts) in order to increase statistical certainty of the outcome of this experiment. A summary of the average scores given to the five papers that we investigated can be seen in Table 3.

Table 3. Ratings of courses

Summary and Conclusions

The ever-increasing need within organizations for skilled ICT workers has recently caused ongoing debate as to whether technical skills are enough for employees to be effective workers. Furthermore, personal attributes have been capturing increasing attention by employers in the ICT job market. Today, a competitive ICT worker needs to not only possess technical skills but also demonstrate certain attributes in order to be successful within the workplace.

The results of the first study (analysis of skills and attribute needs within the ICT sector) are not yet final; only 205 ICT roles have been analysed to date. However, the top 10 winning attributes as identified and a comparison with the outcome of the study of our focus group can explain (to some extent) why employers are reluctant to employ some potential ICT workers (who may seem to lack certain attributes), despite a clear shortage in the marketplace. By comparing the five columns in table 1, we discussed the match and mismatch between the industry view for attributes and students' perception.

Students' selection of top 10 attributes that "help to be a better ICT worker" demonstrates how much students (in this focus group) understand the job market needs. Students' perception of attributes they already possessed can potentially demonstrate whether they are currently "work-ready". The top 10 attributes that students think they have developed (or improved on) during the course of studies implied little change in bringing them closer to be work-ready. The results of the comparison of attributes rated by students as "helping success in studies" and "helping success as an ICT worker", show that students see little difference between attributes that lead to success in studies and those that result in success at workplace.

As this case study is focused on one small focus group only (in one tertiary institution) the results cannot be generalized. Furthermore, due to the fact that students in this focus group were in the last year of their studies at the time when the survey was conducted, the results may be slightly biased, as it may reflect the attributes that are associated with their particular course of study at that time (such as handle pressure, multi-tasking, and strategic thinking). However, the outcome of this study may help identify potential future studies in order to further clarify some of the issues that have been discussed earlier, such as:

References

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