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Issue 25

On the Relevance of Student Work Practice

Andrei Kelemen
Executive Director
@IT Cluster
OTHERS

One of the main concerns of Cluj IT Cluster is the human resource of the industry. It is well known that the IT in Cluj, still substantially based on outsourcing services, is in a constant need of well-trained people, who should be as numerous as possible.

It is also a known fact that most of the IT companies in our city are permanently in search of new talents. According to the existing data, also confirmed by our members, we are talking about hundreds of jobs available, for which it is difficult to find the right candidates. It is also an established fact that the salaries in the IT industry are on average way above the national level and that, when comparing the purchasing power, they have become competitive at the global level, too. Parenthetically, I would like to mention an interesting phenomenon of work force migration, which is at the same time paradoxical, a phenomenon which one CEO of a Cluster company has called "reversed outsourcing". Basically, more and more companies are trying to fill in the local shortage of talents on the labour market by importing from other countries and, surprisingly, not from those having a lower living standard than that of Romania.

But to what extent are all these familiar to those whom we would like to see choosing an IT career? Do they also know these realities? Or is it, rather, that we live with the impression that the realities close to us (as level of knowledge or interest) are as well known to the others as they are to us? By all appearances pencilled by the concrete situation of misaligning the offer to a certain demand of the labour market, these realities are not known or, to the best case scenario, are very little known. Given this situation, one may ask the natural question, namely: why exactly is this happening and which are the mechanisms by which we could intervene to make the talents we need available? There are several answers in respect to causes, as well as to solutions, but, as space is limited, I will only refer now to the way student practice is organized in Romania, practice which should be, at least theoretically, a powerful tool of insertion on the labour market.

The curriculum stipulates the compulsory completion of a professional practice stage, which usually means 90 hours, for a number of credits. The 90 hours can be distributed along the two semesters, which actually happens in reality. The fragmentation of an extremely small number of hours is, from my point of view, a mistake. Practically, the student doesn"t have the necessary time to understand and draw conclusions in regard to what is going on in the company / organization he/she has entered, whether that institution can or cannot be a real career option. Moreover, the practice stage is defined, by law, as a freestanding subject! All these lead me to a natural conclusion which says a lot about the way this instrument is perceived. To be more explicit, I will bring examples from other European countries. In the Netherlands, for instance, the master programs stipulate at least one semester, if not even an entire practice year in the domain the person is training for. In Germany, for example, they have implemented special dual programs of vocational type, which combine the practice stages with the theoretical ones, ensuring thus a consistent group of people who are well trained for what the economy has to offer. The examples can go on, of course, and they all point to a concern for putting up and sustaining an efficient mechanism of insertion on the labour market.

The framework in which we are carrying out our activities in Romania is not, as one can notice, a very favourable one, but this does not discourage us. As part of the efforts to bring to the attention of young people, but not only, the career and life opportunities offered by our industry, Cluj IT Cluster has begun a project by which we are trying to achieve that level of knowledge that is necessary for an informed decision on professional training and development, especially for the young people who are attending university courses or intend to go to university. The program is wider, it contains more phases and levels of action, some of them in a more advanced stage of preparation, others still in the idea stage. This is neither the place, nor the time to go into details, but, a first step has already been taken. Cluj IT Cluster is partner in a European non-reimbursable grant with Babes-Bolyai University, through which we will facilitate the access to work practice stages organized mostly in companies and organizations members of the Cluj IT Cluster for a number of 400 students from the Faculties of Mathematics and Informatics and the Faculties of Economic Sciences and Business Management (FSEGA). The project is entitled "Enhancing employability opportunities through successful practice" (PRACT-IT) and it is co-financed from the European Social Fund through the Sectorial Operational Programme for Human Resources Development 2007-2013.

Beyond the statement of purpose and the bald objectives of a project, we wish this initiative to become one through which to be able to make the IT industry better understood, in terms of the opportunities it offers, as well as the rigors required by the employers in this field. This is also the reason why the project design included right from the beginning the students coming from FSEGA, not only those from Mathematics and Informatics. In other words, we wished to go beyond the classical profile of the employee coming from a faculty where the industry is better known and to extend thus the knowledge circle in other training domains, too.

The project eventually pursues the enhancement of both the relevance of studies and the competencies acquired during the learning stages by strengthening these skills within some work practice stages, as well as a better insertion of those included in the program on the labour market. The enhancement of employment opportunities will be complementarily and in advance ensured by information and career advice actions for a number of 450 students. The students who will participate in the project activities will come from the following specializations: mathematics, informatics, economic informatics, statistics, marketing, international business, general economy and accountancy and they will be selected on the basis of a transparent process for taking part in the project.

The project has an implementation period of 18 months and it started on the 5th of May 2014, but the actual activity with the students will begin with the new university year, that is, in October 2014, first by their selection, then by going through the career counselling stage and, eventually, the work practice stages. We hope to manage to institute a new model for the way these practice stages are carried out and that the participating students will succeed in taking advantage of a real career opportunity. As the IT industry in Cluj looks like today, it is all up to them.

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