ORONO, Maine — University of Maine computer science students rubbed elbows with potential employers Monday evening during the first in a series of statewide events geared toward doubling the number of Maine information technology graduates in four years.
Leaders of the initiative, called Project>Login, say that the shortage of trained computer technology professionals is becoming a national problem. One report published in 2011 by Southern Maine Community College estimates that shortfall will be roughly 977 Maine jobs in the computer science and IT fields by 2018. Only 39 percent of those jobs could be filled at the current rate of graduates.
The U.S. Department of Labor projects that by 2018, 1.4 million computing jobs will be vacant. Under current graduation rates, just 61 percent of those could be filled by U.S. computing degree-owners.
Five of the seven University of Maine System campuses have IT degree programs. In 2012, 71 students graduated from those schools with computer science degrees. For Project>Login to be successful, that number will have to reach 142 by 2017, according to the system.
Part of the problem is the program’s low retention rate, with just 33 percent of first-year computer science students going on to earn a degree in that field.
Harlan Onsrud, a UMaine professor of computer science and information technology, said the universities need to help students with finances by partnering with businesses to promote paid internship possibilities, as well as showing potential graduates that they have many career options to look forward to if they earn a degree.
He said information technology specialists aren’t “backroom coders,” but work closely with people to solve real-world problems. He also said more women need to be drawn into the male-heavy field in the future.
“There are opportunities for them to work right here in Maine after they graduate, make a good living, and also have a rewarding and relevant career,” Onsrud said.
Matthew Herbert, a third-year computer engineering student, and Derek Cormier, a fourth-year student in the same major, both said Monday during the event that they want to find jobs in their home state, and that the meet-and-greet was a prime way of getting a foot in the door at some well-known Maine companies.
“I personally want to stay in Maine,” Cormier said, adding that he was interested in Tyler Technologies, a company that builds software programs for governments and schools.
Project>Login is a private-public partnership among the nonprofit organization Educate Maine, the state’s business community and the University of Maine System aimed at attracting more IT graduates to close the projected gap.
“The University of Maine is committed to preparing its graduates for Maine’s future workplace needs,” UMaine President Paul Ferguson said Monday. “Partnering with Project>Login offers even more opportunities for our graduates to help Maine’s economic development.”
The university held a networking reception Monday in Wells Conference Center in an attempt to bring together IT students and businesses that might one day hire them or give them internships. Businesses at the event included Bangor Savings Bank, Eastern Maine Healthcare Systems, Unum, Tyler Technologies, Cianbro, WEX, Dead River Co., and Boeing, which has a small office in Bangor geared toward computer programming.
Four other networking events are planned through March 28 at the University of Maine Farmington, University of Maine Augusta, the University of Southern Maine and the University of Maine Fort Kent.
“Education is a starting point and a critical component of career success,” Ferguson said. “We are making a commitment to our students to give them every opportunity available to them for academic and professional success.”
For more information on Project>Login, visit www.projectlogin.com.