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Unemployment rate of computer grads baffles BCS


By Stewart Mitchell

Posted on 2 Jul 2010 at 13:47

Government figures claiming computer science graduates are the least likely of all college leavers to find work has baffled the BCS Chartered Institute for Technology.

Figures from the Higher Education Statistic Agency have revealed that on average 10% of full-time first degree graduates from 2009 were unable to find work, and job hunters in the IT sector fared worse than any other sector.

According to the figures, 17% of computer science graduates remained out of work, the highest percentage for any single subject area, while 14% of communications graduates remained unemployed.

“There has been a downturn and that is obviously effecting the industry, but it's strange because what I am hearing from a great many businesses is that there is a shortage of realy knowledgable computer science people available on the job market,” said Bill Mitchell, director of the BCS Academy of Computing.

“In fact, universities that offer computer science courses find it hard to attract enough students and people are telling me that they can't find computer science graduates here and are hiring from Warsaw or St Petersburg.”

One reason for the anomaly could be that the “Computer Science” element of the HESA research includes several different branches of computing. "People often lump all that together,” said Mitchell and his sentiments were confirmed by a spokesperson from HESA.

“The Computer Science statistics include information systems, artificial intelligence, software engineering and a whole bunch of other related subjects,” a spokesperson said.

If Mitchell is right about computer scientists actually being in demand, it marks a sea change for computer graduates.

In the past, businesses have bemoaned the fact that graduates are not properly prepared for the work place after attending computer-related courses.

“Right now, and this hasn't always been the case, employers are saying they are looking for pure computer science graduates more than those that have done business-related computing courses,” Mitchell said.

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User comments

Garbage in, Garbage out

IT is not seen as a quality career and is therefore not attracting the most able students. We need to raise the status of IT as a career choice, we need more women and we need to loose the nerd image.

By milliganp on 2 Jul 2010

Its not a matter of attracting able, or what you really mean, intelligent, students, because now a day's, IT is a career available for the start, not a mid-life crisis career change for the chef's and mechanics that read a few books and recon they know everything. But was easily done because of the boom and need of computing knowledge.

As the key stage 1 and 2 require IT use in all subjects, doesn't mean they can be poached for a career in IT.

The problem with computing grads, especially in the last couple of years, all fully experienced myself as a computing grad;

1. A generic mash of different computing areas in 1 course, you can only really concentrate specifically on your chosen genre in your last year of uni, even then you have other undesired modules thrown in..

2. Grads will find that businesses wont give grads a chance because they don't have experience.
There is hardly any involvement from businesses AND hardly any involvement from the BCS to train new grads and give them a chance over the chefs and mechanics that seem to congest the entry level for grads..

By Mullaney18 on 2 Jul 2010

Apart from stating the obvious - that it could be a short-term statistical anomaly:
"a shortage of really knowledgeable computer science people available on the job market,” ie not inexperienced graduates with basic levels of knowledge.
Perhaps the shortage is in training places or apprenticeships to take graduates to a 'really knowledgeable' level.
If experience is an issue then courses need to be more practical, maybe encouraging contributing to open-source projects.

By davidsoap on 3 Jul 2010

I interviewed a lot of people recently, and ...

This was a "proper" programming job with a back-end database and a (non-Java) o-o language as a base.

We asked some *basic* questions about databases (stuff like "what is a primary key") and also o-o (advantages of inheritance, "is-a" vs "has-a").

Most of the graduates didn't have a clue - this is basic stuff, what on earth are they being taught? I felt that they'd been let down very badly by their tutors, who either didn't know this stuff either or thought that their students wouldn't understand it.

It appears that degrees concentrate on a "task-based" approach, e.g. training people to assemble Java components, rather than a "model-based" approach, training people to *understand* what's going on and giving them the tools to grow and develop after leaving. Task-based is easier, but as soon as the thing you're working on develops or changes you're in trouble, as soon as the fixed pattern of behaviour doesn't give results because the platform has changed you need to be shown the new magic spell, instead of being able to work it out. Task based also gets people who are unfortunately unable to understand things through exams, which helps nobody in the end.

One guy (with the ink still wet on an MSc from one of the London colleges) kept saying "I don't know the theory bit I can work it out". So what the hell did they teach you for the two years then? He had top marks in the database module and couldn't explain any of the classic questions like inner and outer joins.

Process seems to be get stuck, go to google, cut and paste something in without understanding it, do some desultory tests, move on. This is also known as "programming by coincidence".

I wrote a bit about my experiences here

By fjfish on 3 Jul 2010

It would be interesting to see ...

a breakdown of the educational background of people already employed in the IT industry. My guess is that Computer Science qualifications are a bit like Media Studies - not a good preparation for actually being a practitioner in the subject.

I certainly have always found Engineering graduates better suited to most programming tasks below the user interface level and design graduates or subject area specialists better at user interfaces.

Several times I have had Computer Science graduates, sometimes with excellent paper qualifications from well regarded universities, who, on walking me through the first major piece of code they have written, revealed a complete inability to write commercial quality code.

Universities need to test applicants for aptitude on intake. Some people just do not have their brains wired right for programming and no amount of teaching is going to correct that.

By JohnAHind on 4 Jul 2010

I agree with fjfish

From what I have seen of recent graduates, both in the UK and in Germany, most of them know very little about their field, when they start working.

Therefore, if the jobs being offered require experienced and/or knowledgable candidates, graduates are SooL.

At my last employer, I came onto an e-shop project which was keeling over when more than 75 people looked at the shop at the same time, even with a load balancer and 4 web servers.

They hadn't a clue about database structure, design, keys or SQL optimisation. The main query to pull in the shop menu structure and the offers on the page was taking anything up to 45 seconds, per user, to process. By optimising the SQL in the query, better use of joins, removing redundant joins and forcing type, the query ran in under 1 second!

Other optimisations allowed the server pack to process over 250 active shoppers per server.

It was the same within the PHP code, none of them knew anything about optimisation, even the "always test for a positive" rule in an If statement was unkown to them, let alone that forcing types on variables and restricting scope all bring huge performance improvements.

They all went for the most elegant looking code structure, as opposed to the most efficient or maintainable - both of which are far more important in day-to-day business than pure artistic elegance...

It was something I tried to enforce upon my students, when I was running a project seminar on best practices in component orientated software re-engineering at Augsburg University.

But a lot of the time, they are taught the latest techniques and languages and taught very high level theory, with small excerpts of code. They rarely got down to the nitty-gritty of writing "real" code, let alone properly debugging or optimising said code.

By big_D on 5 Jul 2010

This is the problem generally with Computer Science as a course. I graduated 8 years ago in the subject and I felt fairly clueless when I started applying for jobs back then because all the interviews/tests were tailored for specific IT jobs but my education was very generic. I had a broad base of knowledge across all IT disciplines but not enough in any one to get me meaningful employment – a jack of all trades and master of none in the IT world you might say. Universities should offer more tailored courses for the jobs which require graduates. As things stood from when I graduated there was no tie-up between Universities and businesses which meant a grad would leave with a qualification which didn’t give them the ability to do a job without needing more training.

If tech companies invested in supporting uni courses then they could pick off the best students instead of having to spend money/time going through interviews and open days and then retraining the ones they pick! Other students would then actually have a tailored qualification that they could use to get employment without needing more training and it would also mean the bigger businesses are subsidising the provision of training grads for the smaller ones and should improve the quality of the grads.

I must say that I agree with a few of the other comments that certain grads are taught/learn to pass the exams and basically can’t adapt if things change in the industry. I reckon that if I hadn’t bothered going to University and found an IT job after studying for my A-Levels I would have the same level of knowledge I do know but 3-4 years earlier in my life and would therefore be earning at least what I do now, if not more, which really is a damning indictment of the educational system for this particular subject.

By richierace on 5 Jul 2010

I agree with all the posts. I studied computer science and not getting the slightest idea about the use of data structures and algorithms. Surely books and tutor will teach you what sort of algorithm and data structures are in the existent. But how and when we can use it in the real life is still question for many students.

After getting the job with much struggle, I feel that I studied all the things again and understood the fundamentals while using it on the job. The main problem with CS education is (depending on the University), it is catered only to pass the exam. In some universities there are fixed portions are portions of the few chapters are given and guaranteed to be asked in the exams. And why teach them the particular languages ? It is irony but truth. So the CS degrees are worthless right now.

By poths232 on 20 Jul 2010

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