Penske's Stephen Pickett

Penske Vice President and CIO Stephen Pickett says one of his children has entered the field he is in, while another did not, telling him: "Dad, there aren't any jobs." As incoming president of the Society for Information Management, Pickett says one of his top goals through the 3,000-member user organization is to make IT an enticing career path again. He spoke last week with Network World News Editor Bob Brown while in Boston for SIM's annual conference.

What does your job at Penske entail?

The CIO at Penske is a consultative role. It's a US$16 billion company with a handful of people running it from the top because we allow our subsidiaries to run their own businesses. Each subsidiary has a ranking IT executive [Pickett, who has been with the company for eight years, declined to say how big Penske's IT staff is, citing the company's closely-held status].

What sorts of technologies are you dealing with?

We've made significant investments in automotive retail systems and have connected our subsidiaries worldwide with a very secure network. We're experimenting some with VPNs to try to save money, but need to make sure we're keeping our high standards of security, especially when it comes to keeping intellectual property safe among the different organizations we deal with on the racing side. We're constantly looking at wireless, especially with the manufacturing companies and car dealerships.

So, why doesn't your daughter think there are any jobs in IT?

The newspapers keep telling her they're all going offshore or being outsourced. But what most people don't understand is a lot of the offshoring is really just companies setting up programming groups in another country, often with internal employees. These are a lot of global companies, after all. A lot of the offshoring talk is a big nasty rumor. It's a relatively small number, with 3 percent of the jobs offshored. But unless we do something about the perception, this is going to become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

What are your goals as part of SIM's leadership group?

The big goal is to make sure that people know SIM is a research organization and we are trying to help our members understand the future as well as help those who might have difficulty with leadership, helping them with the educational process. It's also about giving back to the community. We've initiated a program with Microsoft to encourage high school and college students to train for an IT career, not only in computer sciences, which is the technical piece, but management information systems, which is the business-oriented part. I serve on the technology boards of a couple of universities and the MIS programs and computer science programs are definitely suffering from a lack of students.

How urgent is this IT worker shortage?

Unless we reverse the trend, we're not going to have the talent pool to continue growing as an industry. In fact, we're seeing the number of IT jobs growing at the same time the number of students entering the universities for IT careers is shrinking. Also, the complexity of IT keeps going up. You start dealing with peer-to-peer and networks that can handle a variety of different devices communicating with each other and you need to have a learned staff. But we think we're catching this problem early enough so that it's going to be a relatively short gap. We need the bench strength.

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