I had an interesting meeting with the FDM Group. I’d never heard of the company until a few weeks ago but as the company is based in the tower block that I regularly pass on the way to the station, it seemed churlish to turn down the chance to visit.

What’s interesting about FDM is the way that the company has managed to boost graduate recruitment at a time when other IT companies and city firms are cutting back. As our sister title, Computerworld UK, reported back in June, the company has gone through a massive recruitment drive for graduates  taking on 500 of them. While that sounds impressive, the company receives 20,000 applicants a year for its programme

What I found particularly interesting though was the methodology. It’s based on training graduates in Unix and SQL before they’re allowed to specialise in subjects such as virtualisation, Java, software testing and project management - subjects that according to FDM, they won’t have experienced on their degrees. The students are then let loose in the real world with placements at FDM’s clients. It's a perfect arrangement, the students get trained on the job at a low salary, while FDM's clients benefit from consultancy at a reduced cost - after two years, the trainees are free to become fully-fledged consultants with FDM or stay with the client.

According to FDM’s Genna Singpo, the training period serves as a halfway house between university and work. That got me thinking several things: firstly, the way that the gap between university and work has never really been bridged. I recall the pages of Computing and Computer Weekly in the 80s being full of letters from graduates caught in the Catch 22 of not being able to be employed through lack of experience and not being able to get this experience. It’s a complaint that carried on being made throughout the 90s, the noughties and is still being made today.

The other point is another old one: that university courses are not designed to take in modern trends and are a couple of years behind the times. This is hard one for universities to tackle: courses are not conjured up at the last minute and the business world changes so rapidly that it must be a real challenge to keep up with current demands. But it's sad to hear that there's a gap to bridge between university and employment; the university I went to had a policy that every course had an industrial year to improve students' employability - these days, a year out seems to mean travelling to exotic places. Full credit for FDM's business model, which appears to be totally successful, but I couldn't help thinking that universities should be doing more to bridge the gap themselves.

Perhaps it doesn't matter at the moment - the employment situation is such that there isn't an abundance of jobs, but that will surely change and there must be a better way of filling vacancies or the old problem of no experience = no job, no job = no experience will surely resurface again - except that with universities increasing the number of graduates they spew out, the situation will worsen.

Still the bright spot for me was when FDM tells me of the growing demand for Cobol skills to maintain legacy systems - this is what I trained in many, many years ago and it goes to show how some specialisms remain constant no matter how the industry changes. But I can't see universities introducing Cobol modules any time soon.



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