I've been following an interesting dialog over at our sister publication Health Data Management, an editorial that said the best choices for careers in health care I.T. systems are those without health care certification or even pure I.T. backgrounds.

The column was written by Rob Tholemeier, a consultant and part-time pundit in our space who has himself participated in our past MDM Summits.

Rob's point was that at health care institutions, when it comes to I.T. hiring, HR is on the lookout for degrees and credentials associated with health care, like R.N. or M.D. But if that's not a surprise, Tholemeier says the best I.T. people in health care tend not to be credentialed or come from backgrounds in visual arts or non-verbal fields like music.

I'll let Rob make that argument for himself, but it's made me aware that a pendulum swings in both directions. Over here at Information Management, where our audience tends to be technical to start with, we've often made the pitch that I.T. specialists need better social and business skills, lest they suffer missing out on the best emerging jobs in business and I.T.

What's at least as concerning lately is that the pendulum has swung and it's the supply side of technical, statistical and analytic talent that is in short supply right now, even as demand for those jobs has swollen.

I got a good dose of this in a chat last week with David Rosenthal, the chair of the computing and decision sciences department in the Stillman School of Business at Seton Hall University. Rosenthal said concentrated studies in I.S., I.T. and statistical courses aren't much in demand, new students are bringing less knowledge of those areas with them to college and aren't moved by the current job market for English Ph.D.s.

I'm all in favor of English majors and I value my liberal arts education as much and maybe more than my business degree for everything it's given me. But those math majors I remember and the students taking statistics and calculus farther than the two semesters I did are hard to find these days.

It's a reality that I.T./business management is looking like more of a mixed bag of art and science these days, and colleges are responding by embedding software tools and statistical understanding into mainstream degrees for marketing etc. more than before. That's good and I hope it's enough. My guess is that over time as sophisticated technology tools and interfaces unwind and automate to easier use by a less trained population, things will sort themselves out.

But our work in technology, I.S. and I.T. does and will probably always call for focused analytic, statistical and scientific prowess for us to keep the front edge moving. We're still going to need hard-core statisticians and quants, we're going to need scientific minds, and we need to nurture them somehow. And readers write to me and our staff every week asking if we know of talent to fill an advanced I.T. project at their company.

As Rosenthal said, we have to bust the stereotype of people who work with computers, and it's a stigma that starts before a kid ever gets to college. "You can be a math major now and actually study interesting and fascinating problems and earn a good wage for doing it. But nobody's advertising this and somehow the myth gets perpetrated."

Short of that, like Rob Tholemeier, I think certain non-certified minds can transition powerfully to a mixed business/analytic role if the incentive and desire are there -- and they are. The kinds of people that can step into analytic, multitasking roles can come from anywhere, I've found, and you hate to see that kind of power working at a Target or coming out of military service with no obvious place to go. It's time for us to find ways to identify those people, offer them a course of action and make that connection.

If you ask me, it is the obligation of academia, foundations, business and government to build that resource if we really care about the next economy of future generations and don't just insist on recreating the workforce of the past. Personally, I think governments and agencies especially could be doing much more in this area, but whether you agree with me on the players, it's hard to deny we're collectively not doing a very good job of it right now.

Jim Ericson is Editorial Director for Information Management, a SourceMedia publication from where this blog originated.


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