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A field of lifelong learning

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A few years ago, all the job market needed was engineers, while universities kept churning out economists, lawyers, communication specialists and teachers. Although things have improved slightly over recent years, a real breakthrough is still to happen, and there a long way to go until tertiary education will be able to fulfill the increasing demands for highly-educated IT professionals.

“If the only thing I consider is the number of requests hitting my mailbox every day, it will still take years before we are be able to meet the market’s demands,” exclaims Hassan Charaf, associate professor at the Budapest University of Technology and Economics (BME). “But even worse than that, demand is increasing at a higher pace than our capacity to educate IT professionals,” he claims.

A BME graduate is of real value to both Hungarian and international employers. “Of the 12 institutions where IT engineering education exists in Hungary, the BME’s degree is valued highest by the market,” insists Györgyi Dallos, head of PR at BME’s Faculty of Electrical Engineering and IT. According to her, the average time a BME graduate will spend looking for a job is some 2.8 months, but the majority of its students can expect to be employed well before passing their final exams. If you combine these figures with the fact that, in 2012, some 620 students will be enrolled in BME’s IT engineering BSc program, you get a somewhat clearer picture of just how big the market demand for good professionals is. According to industry experts, these numbers also show that, although there might be a problem with quantity, the quality of IT higher education in Hungary is still top notch.

“The excellent quality of the Hungarian higher education in the IT sector presents Hungarian employers with a really difficult situation,” says Dea Frankó-Csuba, marketing director of the internationally renowned information management company Kürt Zrt. The director also looks after Kürt Akadémia, the IT and business school funded by the company. According to her, Hungarian companies not only have to face a relative shortage in the output of the country’s IT higher education but also the fact that fresh graduates are extremely popular with international employers. “Some go abroad, others decide to launch their own startups, which is great in itself, but it also means that Hungarian employers need to settle for a small portion of the market’s new professionals,” she says.

Theoretical sciences vs. practical knowledge

While Hungarian universities provide their students with really solid basics, the learning curve of an IT professional can never end with graduation. “A few years ago, when someone left university, he needed at least a year or two to adapt to market conditions and become an engineer of full value,” says Charaf. “We simply do not have that time anymore. Our curriculum needs to find a delicate balance between a really massive background in theoretical sciences and readily usable, up-to-date, practical knowledge so that our graduates can start their careers full-force from the first moment on.”

Becoming an instantly useful developer, however, does not mean that the story ends there. Since technologies as well as market trends are changing rapidly, this area is truly a field of lifelong learning. Kürt Akadémia, for example, specializes in extending and broadening the knowledge and expertise of already well-established professionals. “Kürt Zrt has been a key player in the field of information security for more than 20 years, and we found that the knowledge and experience we accumulated in the area was worth sharing,” says Frankó-Csuba. “And indeed, we found that the best engineers are very open-minded and also demanding towards themselves to continuously look for new things they can learn. One of our most popular courses, for example, is our certified ethical hacker program, which is designed particularly for highly educated engineers.”

Lose-lose

A major market trend, industry experts agree, is the diversification and specialization of various courses. While company-run, software-specific courses are almost always attended by specialists who are running these applications on an operational level, overlaps are inevitable, and these courses are sometimes attended by senior professionals or even executives, and vice versa: those who only require basic skills for their everyday jobs sometimes enroll in courses that provide them with a lot more professional knowledge than would be necessary.

“When we talk about great IT professionals, we mean university degree and up,” says Charaf, adding that there exists a market demand for lower-level expertise as well. “There are efforts to enroll our university dropouts in courses that would still make them good professionals, if not engineers,” he explains, saying that no one in this field is likely to end up on the streets.

“Differentiation of IT-related studies is a crucially important and highly favorable trend,” agrees Frankó-Csuba. “Information technology is a huge area already, and this is the only way to avoid the situation when people with the same knowledge flood the job market, making it impossible both for them to make a living and for companies to find the right experts,” she concludes.

 

Zsolt Balla

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