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Commentary

Top Indian CEO: Most American Grads Are 'Unemployable'

OK, before you get your knickers in a twist, let's put the CEO's comments into context. Vineet Nayar, the highly respected CEO of HCL Technologies, one of India's hottest IT services vendors, was speaking this morning in New York City to an audience of about 50 customers and partners when he related a recent experience with an education official in a large U.S. state.
OK, before you get your knickers in a twist, let's put the CEO's comments into context. Vineet Nayar, the highly respected CEO of HCL Technologies, one of India's hottest IT services vendors, was speaking this morning in New York City to an audience of about 50 customers and partners when he related a recent experience with an education official in a large U.S. state.The official wanted to know why HCL, a $2.5 billion (revenue) company with more than 3,000 people across 21 offices in 15 states, wasn't hiring more people in his state. Vineet's short answer: because most American college grads are "unemployable." (In fairness to HCL, the company recently announced plans to open a delivery center in another state, North Carolina, and invest $3.2 million and hire more than 500 employees there over the next five years under a Job Development Investment Grant.)

Many American grads looking to enter the tech field are preoccupied with getting rich, Vineet said. They're far less inclined than students from developing countries like India, China, Brazil, South Africa, and Ireland to spend their time learning the "boring" details of tech process, methodology, and tools--ITIL, Six Sigma, and the like.

As a result, Vineet said, most Americans are just too expensive to train--despite the Indian IT industry's reputation for having the most exhaustive boot camps in the world. To some extent, he said, students from other highly developed countries fall into the same rut.

In an interview following his presentation, Vineet said HCL and other employers need to have a greater influence on the tech curricula of U.S. colleges and universities, to make them more real-world and rigorous. For the most part, he said, those institutions haven't been receptive to such industry partnerships. More broadly, Vineet echoed the concerns expressed by other CEOs, including SAS Institute's Jim Goodnight and Cisco's John Chambers, about the failure of the U.S. education system to prepare the country's next-generation tech workforce (a subject Goodnight and others will dive into at the InformationWeek 500 Conference, Sept. 13 to 15).

Beyond the need to bolster competencies in math, the hard sciences, and basic problem solving, U.S. schools at all levels must place a greater emphasis on global history, foreign languages, and other subjects that prepare students for jobs and life outside this country. How many grads of U.S. colleges are ready or even willing to work abroad? Vineet asked rhetorically. "We need to define the American dream to be more global in nature," he said.

The cynical among you will counter that some American students, having seen tech jobs move to lower-wage countries or go to H1-B visa holders, have lost their appetite for process-oriented IT professions. But if this country's economic future is indeed rooted in technology--whether in health care, energy, transportation, or the tech industries themselves--then the status quo won't do.