IT companies now seek brilliance and a diploma

  • 2000-08-17
  • Elina Cerpa
RIGA - The need for workers is putting young people in jobs before they are ready, say IT personnel officers.

In recent years, firms filled positions with promising students from university and even high school. Many students tempted by the lure of steady pay have foregone further education.

But now Latvia needs people with a full education for IT slots, employers say.

"Workers in this industry are desperately needed. There are too many first- and second-year students already working at companies. Experience-wise they are not ready for work," said Guntis Urtanis, of SWH Technologies. "A third-year student's work can be satisfactory. Unfortunately, that person does not usually go on to finish his degree. This means they are not fully educated theoretically, as opposed to a graduate."

More money for students could pay off in the long run, said Urtanis, by producing a better-qualified graduate.

In Latvia, there is a dilemma. Computer companies want more computer experts with degrees, but they also snatch promising students while they are in university.

This situation often results in students dropping out of school before completing their degrees.

"There are many students being picked up early. Students with professional talents for the industry get selected at an early stage," said Elmars Gengers, representative of the company IT-Alise.

"There is such a void of IT specialists, that students are plucked from university before they are ready for the work force. Often university students can stay on to finish, but usually they find it too stressful to continue both. One third of all university students are already working for companies. Often a diploma is not needed when you take the cream of the crop, said Urtanis.

The Ministry of Economics has decided Latvia's future is not in industry, textiles or food production, but technology. Government officials and computer companies are trying to loosen Latvia's high-tech industry. Aigars Kalvitis, minister of economics, Karlis Greis-kalns, minister of education, and computer company heads are holding round table talks to discuss options to increase the information technology market in Latvia.

IT company presidents met with Kalvitis last month to work out how to increase Latvia's high-tech industries.

SWH Technologies, IT-Alise and Dati were all present. Edvins Karnitis, spokesman for the Ministry of Economics, said measures in the education system need to be introduced to increase the standards of graduating IT students.

"Specialists and professors need to be introduced into Latvia's universities to prepare students for the working world," said Karnitis. "Students are simply not prepared to join the work force. Currently only one third of students complete their degrees."

"Professors need to prepare their students better so they have practical experience, not just theoretical," said Urtanis.

But computer professors also want more money than other university professors. Without higher wages, these specialists see no point in leaving their high-paying jobs at computer companies to educate the next generation of IT workers.

Kalvitis thinks wages need to be addressed for these professors. He thinks they need to be classified as computer experts, not as professors.

"If they have the title 'professor' next to their name, other department professors will demand the same wages," said Kalvitis.

Low-interest student loans are one way to help students complete their degrees.

"Once they find a job, they can repay their loan and possibly have their future employer repay the loan for them," said Karnitis.

Rigas IT Dati Institute education chief Maris Vitins said IT specialists are in demand around the world.

"Ten years ago, private organizations hired persons based on knowledge, education and experience. Today companies hire bright youth who are interested in the field," he said.