Moez Limayem just bought a new iPhone, and he can’t get enough of it.
He likes being able to check his e-mail, surf the Internet and have weather updates at his fingertips, but for him it’s meaning is deeper: Each time he pulls the phone out of his pocket, it shows exactly why the future for information systems professionals — those responsible for creating the iPhone’s many applications — is indeed a bright one.
Now, if he can just figure out a way to convince college students to follow that career path.
“We aren’t producing enough graduates for the number of jobs that are available, and it’s becoming a real problem,” said Limayem, information systems department chair at the University of Arkansas’ Walton College of Business. “In a way, this was a good problem to have, but it’s not fun anymore.”
One of the most alarming trends for information technology management in Arkansas is also an opportunity for students and young professionals looking for a niche.
The college has had a steady decline in the number of IS graduates since 2003. The 36 information systems degrees awarded in the 2007 academic year marked a 10-year low and a 63 percent decrease from the 97 awarded in 2003.
After just 39 degrees were awarded in 1998, the number surged to as much as 99 in 2001. The drop after 2003 came along with declining market demand and the fall of major dot-com companies.
“The number of information systems graduates has gone down, and it’s been going down for about four years now,” said Bill Curington, senior associate dean of the Walton College. “But there’s a different kind of demand now. The companies aren’t new dot-com companies — they’re Tyson, Wal-Mart and other companies who have large information systems that they depend on to run their companies.
“As those companies grow, their need for systems to support everything that goes on in their company grows. At the same time, the need for information systems professionals grows.”
The demise of the dot-com in 1999 is a primary factor in the drop of information systems graduates, Curington said. As investors shied away and companies folded, jobs disappeared, and prospective students and their parents noticed. It showed when the number of information systems graduates plummeted in 2003 — the year when many in the class of 1999 were set to graduate college.
The black eye left by the fall of dot-com companies hasn’t disappeared, leaving Limayem and the Walton College searching for ways to market themselves and attract new students.
Last year, the department hosted its first IT Day where more than 300 high school students were brought to campus and introduced to representatives from dozens of companies in search of more IS professionals. The department sends out mail to prospective students and their parents and has even purchased an advertisement on a university transit bus.
The measures are different and a bit unconventional, Limayem said, but they come out of necessity and have worked so far.
After last year’s IT Day and the other efforts to begin marketing the program, Limayem said there were increases in 2008, though official figures have yet to be released.
“I bought an iPhone today, and it’s just a small computer,” Limayem said. “You need people to design, sell and support these applications. I’m very optimistic, and I think people will start to understand. IT is here to stay. It’s in every aspect of our daily lives.”