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June 21, 2013

How to Narrow the Skills Gap for More American Jobs

Posted by Sandeep Dadlani (View Profile | View All Posts) at 4:18 AM

Mind the gap. Those of us who have ever spent time in London know of this signage in the city's many Underground stations. It's meant to remind us not to get our feet caught between the edge of the platform and the train. As we blaze a trail into the innovative world of tomorrow, It's a good idea to mind a different gap.

The one I speak of is the skills and talent gap facing many Global 2000 companies. The irony is that these companies tend to do business in countries that boast stellar university systems. It's within the walls of these colleges and universities that a significant share of the Western world's younger population graduates. Yet large corporations have trouble finding enough qualified candidates for job openings that demand specialized, high-tech skills. I'm not here to discuss the state of higher education in the Western world. I'm here to tell companies that they need to step up and make sure they have programs in place that help hone the talents of workers for the jobs of the 21st century. In Atlanta, where I work and live, the unemployment rate hovers between 7 and 9 percent. Yet there are plenty of jobs available in the metro Atlanta region. What's going on?

Well, there's a disconnect between the positions that global companies want to fill and the general skills with which many people are searching for jobs today. It's not that their talents are bad or useless; they're simply not suitable for many of the high-tech careers being offered at these companies.

We in Infosys should know. Infosys recently announced its expansion in the metro Atlanta region and is looking to hire hundreds of new employees. The best part of these developments is that I'm confident we'll find most of this new talent pool right here in greater Atlanta. First we begin by working with area universities like Kennesaw State, Chattahoochee Technical College, Georgia Tech, and other schools in helping them refine their curriculums so that students are more prepared to work in a high-tech company. Students at these universities have a tremendous advantage because they know what kinds of skill sets are required before they graduate.

Another part of our strategy is to work with a program like QuickStart. The State of Georgia supported QuickStart, a program to help train students for various IT industry positions. We're sending our Infosys trainers to work with QuickStart in order to help get students prepared for their career after they graduate. Doing so helps us widen the talent pool because, frankly, we need highly skilled people to grow.

Having a bright future isn't limited solely to undergraduates. For instance, Infosys predicts that we might be able to fill half our positions in Atlanta through lateral hiring, not just university hiring. Therefore, experienced workers who have been away from full-time employment for the past few years because of the global economic crisis should be focusing on updating their skills.

At the internal training programs of Infosys BPO in Atlanta, which typically last between two and six weeks, we sometimes share with new employees what it means to be global. It means being comfortable about being on a conference call with China. Or discussing strategy with colleagues from Brazil. Or collaborating with a team in India. We're a very cosmopolitan, multicultural company, which is an advantage in today's marketplace. Diversity is an asset instead of something to be scared about. And we would all benefit from the heightened presence of highly skilled workers.

I recently had the pleasure of being a guest on a local Atlanta talk show during which the hostess, Keisha Lancelin, asked me about the Global Impact Award Infosys had been honored to receive by the metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce. She said that she imagined many companies in the area were wondering how they could train and prepare highly skilled workers for the years to come. My advice is not to look at such programs as transactional but invest in the local society and ecosystem that eventually benefits enteprises globally.

To be sure, start local. Work with wonderful programs such as YWCA is doing with their Teen Girls in Technology program for STEM in Atlanta. Georgia's Economic Development Authority helps prepare students for high-tech careers in the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics fields by partnering with companies like Infosys. But then look forward to the whole community for support. Before you know it, your organization will be thinking and acting on a global scale and attracting the best people.

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