Tech Talent Shortage, Or Busted Moral Compass? - InformationWeek

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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.'

One retired IT pro wrote me to relate the time he was assigned to supervise a few H-1B workers under contract at low hourly rates to deploy an ERP system. His manager brought the H-1B workers in--though none of them were qualified, he says--as an alternative to hiring or training staffers or contracting with a reputable local firm that bid a flat rate.

"The resulting programs didn't work properly, and some were never deployed," the former supervisor says. "The reputable firm was ultimately hired to do the projects (at the proposed flat rates), and a local consulting programmer was hired as an employee. The 'manager' responsible for this fiasco is still in charge and still resisting training for in-house staff." The mentality: Far is better.

A 61-year-old self-employed Oracle/JDE consultant and 40-year IT veteran wrote me to say he has been "watching this 'shortage' develop over the past 15 years" and is "constantly amazed at how shortsighted much of corporate America has become--'hit the ground running' and all the other euphemisms those corporate cheapskates have applied to acquiring temp and full-time labor." He relates how, back in the day, his uncle, a manager at a local GE factory, would discuss with him management's obligation to provide a productive work environment and advancement opportunities (including on-the-job training and outside classes) for those so motivated.

"Not anymore. The moral compass is busted," he says. The bottom line is all that matters. Hire only those persons who already have the skill(s) you need today; lay off the rest. No formal retraining, very little OJT--just too expensive."

If importing technical expertise or moving jobs offshore serves a company's best interests, then it should indeed move in those directions. I'm not here to indict an entire set of business practices. But more companies do need to look past their next couple of financial quarters.

While big American technology companies seek to import workers on green cards or temporary visas, some of their counterparts overseas are more inclined to plow some of their profits back into their workforces. Take Infosys, one of the world's most successful IT services vendors. Even with a population of 1.1 billion in its home country of India, it still faces shortages of key technical skills. So it's not only moving some of that work to its centers outside India (including partnering with Detroit's Wayne County Community College District to train software developers), but it also trains more than 14,000 people at a time at its 337-acre Global Education Centre in Mysore, India, the largest such corporate center in the world. Subject areas include consulting, software package implementation, systems integration, infrastructure management, and business process management.

"My challenge and advice to corporate America is to free up some of the billions on those balance sheets and provide some internal training to our own citizens," the 40-year IT veteran says. "Don't just sit on some TSC board (although that's certainly helpful), but actually set up some internal training programs for current staff. You just might be amazed at the outcome--higher loyalty, more productivity, probably less turnover.

"Yes, it might hurt the bottom line a teensy weensy little bit in the short run. But in the medium to long run, America becomes much more productive. And when Americans have jobs, they spend, in turn supporting and boosting the economy."

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Mark Simchock
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.
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!
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.
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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