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Malaysia short on IT specialists

PETALING JAYA: Malaysia is facing a shortage of networking specialists among its IT professionals, according to the Association of the Computer and Multimedia Industry of Malaysia (Pikom). 

It said part of the problem is the lack of exposure among IT graduates to real-world business needs. 

This shortcoming, said Pikom councillor Woon Tai Hai, leaves IT graduates who only have a general IT education, with a mismatch between the skills they have and the skills wanted in the job market. 

Sandy Walsh, Cisco regional Networking Academy Programme manager, said Malaysia is short of 4,200 networking specialists, according to statistics from a study by research firm IDC. The study had been commissioned by networking vendor Cisco. 

The problem spans the Asia-Pacific region, which faced a shortage of 210,000 networking professionals last year, said Walsh. 

She said the region-wide shortage would double by 2009, leaving some 40% of networking positions unfilled, especially in the most critical areas of network security, wireless networking, and Voice-over-Internet-Protocol deployment. 

Walsh and Cisco Systems (Malaysia) Sdn Bhd managing director Kumaran Singaram were briefing the media on their company's efforts to promote the Cisco Networking Academy programme through educational institutions in Malaysia.  

The move includes signing up as many universities and colleges as possible to train IT students in Cisco networking technology. 

"I believe the shortage of network specialists is not in the network support area, but rather in the area of design and innovation," said Woon, who represents Pikom's special interest group for human resources development. 

"We are short of people who can design an effective configuration to suit an enterprise's needs, and troubleshoot problems," he said.  

But he was cautious about vendor-specific training in networking technology. "There is no guarantee that today's market leader will not be tomorrow's laggard," he said. 

"Nonetheless, we need to recognise that technological breakthroughs are dominated by a few key vendors who are also leading the research in their field," he added. 

According to Woon, Malaysian educational institutions need to start by teaching their students generic networking principles and knowledge.  

Then, in subsequent years, they need to embed product training into the curriculum to equip graduates for the marketplace. 

"Generic training has little value if not complemented with specialised knowledge of vendor-dictated networks," Woon said. 

He noted that if there are not enough networking specialists locally, then companies must hire them from abroad, competing with other countries in the region which are facing the same shortage. But this would be an expensive way of addressing the problem. 

"The other solution is for companies to provide training for new employees to gain specialist skills but this will still take time and might not meet immediate needs," Woon said. 

"Generally, companies do not have the time and resources to train semi-skilled graduates, and employers need skilled graduates to contribute immediately to the company." 

Woon said some IT students may not be aware they need to specialise to succeed in the job market. 

"Nowadays, to be a jack-of-all-trades in IT, and master of none, is like stepping into a river without knowing its depth.  

"The Government's graduate training scheme is a clear example. Some 70% to 74% of unemployed graduates who had attended the scheme in 2006 only got jobs after specialised training," he said.  

Woon stressed the importance of networking specialists keeping up with their continuing professional education. 

"Even when graduates have joined a company, they should always seek to be current. They cannot rely on past accomplishments and credentials, but must consistently seek to be reskilled and retrained," he said. 

Also, professional knowledge and skills are not all that they need. "They must also consider learning soft skills like personal communication and leadership," said Woon. 

"Today's job environment involves working with people as much as with technology, and a successful network specialist needs to be balanced in all areas."  

Source: http://star-techcentral.com/tech/story.asp?file=/2007/1/16/technology/16548926&sec=technology

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