Web site places IT students in internships

There’s at least one industry that’s thriving even in what experts have labeled an “economic crisis.”

Wisconsin Lt. Gov. Barbara Lawton announced Friday in a press conference the release of a Web site to match students with Information Technology internships in one of Wisconsin’s fastest growing industries. The Information Technology Association of Wisconsin developed and funded the site, president Bill Mortimer said, because the industry simply cannot find enough students to meet its needs.

Many entry-level IT positions provide salaries of $60,000 a year, and Mortimer said 50,000 of those well-paying jobs are quickly becoming available in Wisconsin as the baby-boomer generation reaches retirement.

So far, the Web site, www.itawi.org, lists seven companies and about 80 available positions.

Computer Science professor Michael Wick said both UW-Eau Claire’s computer science and business departments offer programs under the IT “umbrella,” though the computer science program focuses more on technological problem-solving and the business department’s Information Systems major emphasizes management.

Senior Information Systems major Chris Sewell said he thought it was a good idea to bring employment opportunities to one place with the site, even though he doesn’t expect to look hard for a job.

“Every business with a computer network is going to have a demand for someone from an IS field,” Sewell said.

Information Systems professor Anthony Keys said the only difference between IS and IT are “a matter of naming.” Wick said both are equally employable in the IT field.

Keys said Eau Claire has the largest IS program in the state and its graduates have no trouble finding jobs. Wick said employers could handle three times the graduates the computer science department can offer.

Keys said IT employers are especially eager to hire because it takes six to eight years of training for a new employee to replace a baby-boomer in any given business.

Wick said though their IT students are almost guaranteed to get a job, Eau Claire’s department would probably find the site useful in providing students with more options.

“This would be a great thing for students to peruse in their pajamas,” he said.

Both Lawton and Mortimer said they hope the new site will reverse their concerns of IT students leaving Wisconsin to find jobs in other states.

“It’s not because they don’t want to be here,” Mortimer said. “We believe it’s because they don’t know what opportunities are here.”

Lawton said Wisconsin IT students are especially crucial to providing innovative ideas to fuel economic growth in Wisconsin.

“We want them to imagine their future right here in Wisconsin, so we can stop hemorrhaging our college graduates,” Lawton said.

Keys and Wick said the majority of their students find jobs in the upper Midwest, primarily in Wisconsin and Minnesota.

Wick said the hype of job outsourcing has unnecessarily driven students away from the IT field.

“We’re a little worried it will become a self-fulfilling prophecy,” he said, explaining that if employers cannot find American employees they’ll be forced to send those jobs overseas.

Sewell said he chose an Information Systems major through the business department to enhance social skills that can’t be outsourced.

“The days of the techno-geek finding employment are quickly disappearing,” Wick agreed.

Decreasing enrollment has also been an issue for the IS department, whose numbers reached an all-time low with 150 students three years ago. Keys said the faculty worked closely with employers to modify curriculum to their needs and the IS department now teaches 200 majors and 50 IS minors, with an annual department growth of 20 students.

IS department chair Thomas Hilton said marketing to middle and high school students will be much more important in meeting IT employment demands, since the IS department already has 100 percent placement.

“The issue is really making the students aware of the opportunities to enter the field,” Hilton said. “We have recruiters all over the place.”

To attract students early, The Information Technology Association of Wisconsin has also partnered with WISCareers, a UW-System career exploration tool for students at the secondary education level.

Sewell said he likes that an Information Systems major provides him with so many opportunities.

“It’s a constantly growing field and changing with technology,” Sewell said. “The field in general helps companies stay innovated. I don’t see it going anywhere; I think it’s only going to continue to get bigger.”

Lawton said Wisconsin’s economy wouldn’t be able to survive without IT, since almost every business needs technology to coordinate information. Mortimer agreed.

“Information technology is literally in everybody’s business.”