Government // Mobile & Wireless
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3/20/2012
01:54 PM
Rob Preston
Rob Preston
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Tech Talent Shortage, Or Busted Moral Compass?

Readers weigh in on training, internships, partnerships, and 'cut-and-paste robotic HR people.'

In response to my recent column challenging employers to step up to (and stop whining about) the IT "skills shortage," I received thoughtful letters from current and former IT pros, consultants, integrators, academics, and vendor executives. What follows are their perspectives from the front lines. In short: They're not happy with what they see.

Several readers exhorted employers to engage with local high schools, technical schools, junior colleges, and universities to help refine their technical curricula as well as create internships and other work programs.

Mel Whiteside, director of engineering technology at Wichita State University, says community and technical colleges, in general, "love partnering with industry and providing low-cost, high-skilled training, whether it is in IT or other technical fields. This is one of the reasons they exist." Whiteside previously taught engineering design and AutoCAD for eight years at a community college outside of Wichita.

What frustrates him, he says, is that local tech employers would rather "whine and complain about skills shortages" than make the time and resource commitment to partnering with and advising local schools. "Business and industry must--yes, must--connect with and take advantage of their regional, taxpayer-supported community and technical colleges (and in some cases local universities) to attain the type of skilled worker they need," Whiteside says.

One positive example is INTER Alliance, a partnership set up in 2006 between Cincinnati-area employers and educators. INTER Alliance aims to "create a renowned, thriving, and sustainable pool of IT talent" in the region that "not only fulfills local demand, but also is strong enough to actually attract new employers."

[ Managing younger IT workers? Keep these tips in mind for a happier, more productive workplace: 4 Rules For Managing Millenials In IT. ]

Member organizations, including Procter & Gamble, Kroger, Toyota, Microsoft, and Chiquita, work with local high schools and universities on IT courses, mentoring programs, career camps, Olympics-style competitions, paid internships, and work co-ops. One of the many benefits of INTER Alliance, says reader Andrew Young, a Kroger business analyst who brought the program to my attention, is that it helps students "see that even grocery companies like Kroger rely heavily on technology."

If your local CIO group isn't involved with such a program, it needs to start one--and start publicizing it. One reader who works at a community college didn't know where to begin looking for industry partners. For starters, I pointed him toward his local Chamber of Commerce and the national Society for Information Management (which has many local chapters).

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Jim Downs, CEO of Chicago-based Connamara Systems, which develops custom applications for the financial trading industry, says his company typically hires candidates with undergraduate computer science or computer engineering degrees and two to four years of experience. But for less-rigorous programming jobs, he recommends that companies bring in bright high school grads who might not be interested in attending a four-year college, pay them a living wage, and train them as part of an apprenticeship program.

"Maybe this training program is only 18 months with real on-the-job experiences," he says. "At the end of the program, a job would be waiting. Hopefully, the best of the class can start contributing value to the company during the training program."

Downs says Connamara, which now has two openings for software engineers, "isn't quite large enough to take on such an effort, but we have started internal training programs to re-tool employees to help fill our shortages."

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Mark Simchock
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Mark Simchock,
User Rank: Apprentice
3/28/2012 | 6:14:38 PM
re: Tech Talent Shortage, Or Busted Moral Compass?
I want to add that the faultering of the USA's education system is not exclusive to IT. The sad irony is that the companies that "manage" their effective taxes rate down to the bare minimum are probably the first to complain about the quality of the workforce. Dear CEOs, CFOs, CIOs, etc. you can't have your cake and eat it too. Odd, isn't it. C-Level pay rates continue to increase yet their collective long term vision decreases. Why worry about the blood and stones when you'll retire before the sh_t hits the fan?

Further more, the truly smart employees are proactively jumping ship and either go out on their own or sign-on with a viable start-up. If you're going to sweat job security why not pair that risk up with a much nice reward?

That said, the truth is the eduction issue has become political fodder just like taxes. People talk about it, especially around elections, but ultimately nothing gets done about it. It's lip service and more lip service. Much like the USA's energy policy, yes? We can't even come up with viable energy alternatives, how are we going to fix education?

The bottom line (pun intended), is that nothing will change until it absolutely, positively has to. Until then the blood will continue to be sucked from the stone. The only hope is that higher education will become the next victim of the scale and disruptive powers of the internet. The shoe is there. It's poised. Let's hope it drop sooner rather than later.
TreeInMyCube
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TreeInMyCube,
User Rank: Apprentice
3/23/2012 | 8:15:58 PM
re: Tech Talent Shortage, Or Busted Moral Compass?
Infosys is investing in its people -- not just investing in buildings, servers, routers, software, and disk arrays. What a great idea! Are large tech companies -- or non-tech companies, like Kroger or P&G -- running an ROI calculation for investing in their people? Turnover costs money, and so does decreased productivity due to low morale and getting-rusty skills. Invest in your people, and reduce those costs. While I agree that individual managers (who *are* people) should have a moral obligation to treat their employees well, it can be a bit of a stretch to apply "morals" to a company. That atmosphere was more prevelant in the 1980s, and is seen less often today. Don't just cross your fingers and wish your employees had more skills -- invest in them!
MyW0r1d
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MyW0r1d,
User Rank: Strategist
3/23/2012 | 8:08:45 PM
re: Tech Talent Shortage, Or Busted Moral Compass?
I have seen more which could and should complain about broken CIOs (those that are no more than CFOs assigned where they can do more limited damage) than actual lack of IT skills (although there are some false prophets out there counselling the CIOs which I referred to earlier). Companies and placement agencies expect newly minted MCPs or CCNAs or to perform at MCITS or CCIE levels and you can see the confusion in the advertisements (only active CCNXs). In doing so, they are sometimes passing over recent certifications with additional years of substantiated practical experience. Worse, do not invest in training for cost containment measures. They end up placing poorly qualified personnel in senior positions and end up validating these false presumptions of IT shortages (just don't expect their admissions). I have also seen the case where they expect IT staff to be fully capable from day one (or they will not hire) which fails to consider an important aspect that each company employs IT as its particular needs dictate. This means getting familiar with the local customizations and the needs which drove it.

In some cases, business flexibility does not always equal IT or technical responsiveness on a one for one basis or put another way, we can theorize a business initiative much quicker than we can place the technical structure to support it. TTM is a combination of complexity, capability, and resource availability (it will take less time if I dedicate 10 programmers than 1). We need to remember that it will almost always take less time to say "make this happen" rather than actually doing it. Vague criticism is an easy, two way street that once taken is almost always counterproductive.
EVVJSK
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EVVJSK,
User Rank: Apprentice
3/22/2012 | 6:35:06 PM
re: Tech Talent Shortage, Or Busted Moral Compass?
"Busted moral compass..." that would imply Companies are people. Oh, wait a minute, Supreme Court indicated companies WERE people (or at least had a right to influence elections). Oh, I guess that only applies when Companies want it to apply, but not when they don't !
Even if it isn't a morality issue, training employees MOST CERTAINLY should be something that they see as being in their BEST INTEREST. Sadly, the curren economic situation will likely cause many Companies to be short sighted, until they wake up and find themselves too far gone to come back.
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