Down To Business: The Lost Art Of Long-Range Planning

Readers ask: How can we groom a next-generation tech workforce in the absence of a long-term strategy?
A panel set up by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce last week recommended several steps to improve this country's competitiveness. Among them, it urged CEOs to stop issuing quarterly earnings guidance, an attempt to shift their focus from short-term results to long-term planning.

If only business technology employers and managers would get the same kick in the pants. In this age of bottom-line accountability, we're preoccupied with picking projects and negotiating contracts that produce near-immediate payback, with helping our companies meet the next regulatory deadline. Important considerations, of course--as long as we don't lose sight of the bigger picture.

When it comes to grooming the next-generation tech workforce, it appears we're doing just that. At least that's the feedback from the 50 or so readers who responded to my recent column on the looming "tech labor shortage." Following is a sampling of their perspectives. For you tech employers: Are these readers' beefs legit?

Business technology manager: "It continually amazes me that corporations feel they can act freely and without consequence to improve their short-term bottom line at the expense of their employees, while espousing platitudes like 'It's nothing personal. It's just business.' Why should the American worker have any loyalty to corporations that show them none?"

Programmer and university lecturer: "I almost never see personnel from these IT companies who complain about the talent shortage actually being on-site teaching courses. Somehow, these companies feel they don't need to put in any effort to plant the seeds. They just want to reap the harvest."

Consultant and former director of IT strategic planning: "For the last few years, IT departments were able to choose from many candidates at lower levels until they found an exact fit. So they hired the square peg for the square hole to do the same things they had done before. The result: no growth, no stretch, no leaders, but very quick payback on the position they filled. Now the complaint is that they don't have people with the strategic outlook or leadership skills they need. Sorry, guys, you can't have it both ways."

Canadian business technology manager: "This problem has its root in the North American way of doing business: focusing on the short term, the next quarter, to the exclusion of long-range planning, and the attitude that IT and maintenance are strictly overhead and thus less important than sales or marketing. As foreign as it may sound, create a plan looking five to 10 years down the road. Train your people, offer internships for students, and look within the company."

"Aging baby boomer" business technology pro: "Much of the so-called talent shortage is a self-inflicted wound. Companies need to improve their use of employees at all points in the career pipeline. More-experienced employees should be assigned as mentors, internal consultants, trainers, or cross-function coordinators. Some of these tasks require subtle skills that younger employees don't yet have, and most of these tasks can't be outsourced to someone in Bangalore or Budapest."

Retired business technology exec who teaches math part time: "Many of today's young people expect instant, high-level rewards for little work. Mathematics and the sciences require study and application of one's intelligence, and many students seem to expect that all one needs to do is take off the top of their head and pour the knowledge in! So I presume that many prefer to become MBAs, lawyers, sports figures, or rock stars for the high returns, and presumably for less work than poring over a math or computer science text."

Tech business owner: "When tech honchos tell you that we have a talent shortage, suggest instead that they have a vision problem. We have plenty of talented IT workers in the U.S. They simply don't want to look for them, develop them, encourage them, work with them, pay them fairly, or, most indicting, own up to the problems that they, as managers, have created."

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