Grow your own
by Douglas E. Welch
October 29, 1999
© 1999, Douglas E. Welch
Many companies today are bemoaning the fact that they can't find
an experienced Flash programmer, an ASP (active server page) expert
or a graphic designer who knows how to work with PHP to create
personalized web graphics on the fly. While in some ways I debate
the current hysteria around the lack of technical workers I can
also understand the problems that some companies face. How do
you find someone with years of experience when the development
tool has only been available for a few weeks? The fact is, these
companies need to look to organizations that are much older to
find a solution.
In the Army now
It might seem like a large stretch, but the military, (meaning
Army, Navy, Marines, and Air Force) have had to deal with the
same dearth of qualified personnel since the first army was created
in ancient times. Imagine the problems of finding an experienced
archer when the longbow had only just been invented. Sure you
might find a few huntsmen who were good with the bow, but where
do you find 40-50 of them to go to war with your next door neighbor
or to train the 500 others you'll need to win that war? In today's
world, the same problem occurs when you go looking for a fighter
pilot or a nuclear reactor technician for an aircraft carrier.
There are not a lot of people with these skills just walking around
your town. You can post all the ads you want, but the fact is
you are not going to find someone to fill those positions any
time soon. Military organizations have known about this problem
for centuries and developed a method of dealing with it. If they
can't find experienced personnel, they grow their own.
Hail, hail, Corporate U.
The most recent effort to fill empty technical positions involves
companies calling for an increase in the number of H1-B visas
to bring foreign workers into the US workforce. What these companies
fail to realize is that importing workers will still not provide
enough knowledgeable bodies to fill the current job openings,
let alone the ever-increasing demands of the future. Specialized
knowledge is a finite quantity and if companies want knowledgeable
people they are going to have to develop these people themselves.
High-tech companies need to develop programs that allow them to
develop their next generation of employees. Building on the military
example, they should create programs that offer new workers a
defined list of training and experience in return for a time commitment.
For example, a company can agree to train someone to be a web
developer for their company with a written understanding that
the person will stay with the company for a certain number of
years after they receive the training. Companies would be developing
their own post-graduate programs that involve both training and
hands-on experience. Granted, the details of early exits and evaluation
milestones would have to be developed, but I don't think this
is an insurmountable obstacle.
Not for everyone
Just as some people do not continue with the military after their
commitment is completed, some of these workers would move on to
other jobs and other companies. Even so, the training company
has had the use of their hands and their minds for the time of
the original commitment. It is not like the company trained the
person without receiving any work in return. More importantly,
those workers that do stay have a deeper understanding of how
the company works and can apply their new talents in any particular
area of the company.
Of course, beyond the initial training programs, companies have
to build enlightened business practices. The same forward thinking
that developed the training programs must stretch throughout the
company as a whole. Otherwise, after their commitment is fulfilled,
most people will go to a company that offers them more opportunities
or a better work environment. Too often I see companies that are
very progressive in some areas while being totally backward in
others. Even though you have trained these people you still need
to work at retaining them.
If companies want to succeed in the coming years, they need to
develop the next generation of "Top Gun" programmers just as the
Navy develops its fighter pilots. For too long, companies have
depended on the existing academic systems to provide them with
new recruits. The fact is, technology jobs today are so wide and
varied that it is impossible for academia to develop anything
but an overview of the current job market. Colleges can give students
a good overview of current knowledge and the techniques of learning,
but it is up to companies, to turn this raw talent into productivity.
Any company that ignores this fact is likely to find themselves
out of business before they ever find the personnel they need.
Douglas E. Welch is a freelance writer and computer consultant
in Van Nuys, California. Readers can discuss career issues with
other readers by joining the Career Opportunities Discussion on
Douglas' web page at: http://www.welchwrite.com/
He can reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org