The IT Talent Supply-Chain Problem


By Arthur Langer

We are supposedly at the crossroads of losing technology talent in the U.S. due to lower prices and better IT training abroad.

I have been collaborating with two senior academics, Dave Thomas from Harvard Business School and Peter Cappelli from the Wharton School, who focus their research in supply chain, talent management and employee diversity programs. Their research supports much of mine--all of it suggests that we need to reinvent the way talent is developed and that can compete in a global economy.

The understanding of IT organization's needs, however, is not in perspective. While so many think the need for IT jobs in the U.S. is non-existent, nothing can be further from the truth. Furthermore, there are a lot of unhappy outsourcing customers who are in the market for an alternative.

Indeed, I keep hearing from CIOs that they cannot find enough young talent--or local talent in general. The slowdown in IT graduates may have created a shortfall of local needs that are difficult to replace using traditional outsourcing in India, Brazil and China.

So what's a possible solution? Let me make you aware of an effort to provide trained mainframe talent for example.

I currently have a group of low-income high school graduates and community college students at Rutgers in a specially designed 16-month certification on mainframe. Here is the timetable for supplying talent:

• Selections are made after completing a rigorous six-week pre-certification. • Students take two intense mainframe classes per week. They also take two communications classes. • Upon completing the first term they work at client sites three days a week along with a project manager. • We created a charitable organization called Workforce Outsource Services (WOS). WOS is the consulting arm, and the students actually work through our firm--so you do not have to hire them. • After six months they go full-time consulting, and after a year of that you can hire them or keep them as outsource suppliers.

So in 20 weeks you have a professional that you can hire away if you like. We are finding incredible young and diverse talent. Prudential, Medco, Blue Cross are all on board. Payments can be made in the form of donations and are at or below India rates.

Arthur Langer is senior director of the Center for Technology, Innovation and Community Engagement at Columbia University. To read Art's monthly analysis columns in CIO Insight, click here.


7 Comments for "The IT Talent Supply-Chain Problem"

  • girish February 01, 2010 4:15 am

    Dear "U.S. Talent," I really could not appreciate your comment "It's not xenophobia--it's reality. I've worked with H-1Bs from a variety of countries, and the Indians are the worst. In every way. Poor code, poor communication, a kiss-up attitude that hides the truth and a culture of rude interpersonal behavior." Firstly, are you talking about behaviour? I am sure your words are reflecting it better. Secondly, I think India has all levels of talents and am sure you are not aware of it. Unfortunately you got a project matching your skill-set. Thirdly, you can fool people once, twice, but not every time. India has got the largest and most successful software development companies ("body-shops," in your terms). I think a person like you should go and research on the extremely technical and expert level projects Indians have worked on. Your prejudice is not well-informed and up to the mark. I really appreciated the comments from others. I request you to always reflect a professional and logical view to the core problem.

  • Matthew Kasinkas January 29, 2010 1:56 pm

    We hear you loud and clear: Your words: Indeed, I keep hearing from CIOs that they cannot find enough young talent--or local talent in general. My words: Emphasis on the word YOUNG. Your words: I currently have a group of low-income high school graduates and community college students... My words: Emphasis on the word LOW WAGE Conclusion: The target market for the labor supply chain in the USA is young, low wage workers. Thanks for the article. I can confirm that my research suggests the same.

  • Barbara Davis December 08, 2009 11:12 pm

    I find this discussion very interesting. The lack of a formal and standardized business-analysis profession has been an issue on my radar for almost 10 years. So much so, that I created the world's first university-accredited BA diploma program. The program represented a well-rounded approach to teaching the foundational skills that you really do need in order to be successful as a BA. Interestingly, the IIBA has tried to fill this gap with their CBAP program as well. The issue that I have is that the CBAP is incomplete and does not encompass the full role of a BA within an engagement. Business analysts do so much more than just gather requirements. While I was the Practice Director for the BA Center of Excellence, I had the opportunity to work in a hybrid model that utilized onshore and offshore resources. What I discovered is that we are going offshore for two main reasons: to lower costs resources and goodwill. There are issues with this. Lower-cost resources tend to be more junior and contribute to quality issues in the end product. Clients notice a definite loss of transparency and often complain of a bait and switch where senior onshore resources wow them in discovery and then junior offshore resources are engaged in the project. This is not to say that you can't engage the offshore model -- you can. But you do have to use the model well. You still have to employ the same techniques you would for onshore resources that will report to your office everyday. I have been very successful in using a model that I have now branded as E2 Consulting's RMM, or Resource Maturity Model. Understanding the client, project, culture and the personality of the resource is critical to matching a resource with a client based on the resource career level and personality as well as the skills has made a huge impact in the success rates of resource placement. We address the quality issues through a more precise resource placement and leaner processes where quality is inherent in the development process and leads to a quality product.

  • U.S. Talent November 25, 2009 5:49 pm

    The CIOs have themselves to blame. There is not shortage of American IT talent. Repeat: THERE IS NO SHORTAGE OF AMERICAN IT TALENT. There is a serious shortage of intelligence at the executive level of American business. There's a reason young people aren't training for IT. They can see the situation perfectly clearly. Re: CIO's who complain they can't find young talent: why 'young'? Perhaps what you can't find is 'cheap.' A reminder that age discrimination is illegal, btw. In most fields, rational people value experience. In most fields, someone with 20 years of experience is valued and sought after. When you look for a doctor, do you only look for someone just out of medical school? Why are medical school graduates required to do internship with more experienced doctors? Do you really think that IT skills are commodity labor? Then do it yourself! Another unfounded statement in the article refers to "better IT training abroad." Nonsense. The motive for offshoring work is price. The quality of most of the common offshore 'talent' is horrible. Yes, I mean India--that's where the big body-shops are located. It's not xenophobia--it's reality. I've worked with H-1Bs from a variety of countries, and the Indians are the worst. In every way. Poor code, poor communication, a kiss-up attitude that hides the truth and a culture of rude interpersonal behavior. The Chinese tend to have more rigorous math and foundation training, yes, but are impossible to communicate with, and generally fall down when it comes to sophisticated abstract thinking. The Russians are far too 'clever.' Hey, CIO's, here's a news flash: you get what you pay for. You want cheap, you get cheap, not good. The real problem is attitude -- on the part of business 'management.' The desire to get something for nothing. These types need to wake up and understand that short-term thinking and not properly valuating the smartest and most creative group of people (that's right, IT workers) is destroying companies' sustainable competitiveness, and that this extends to the society as a whole. The U.S. government should end the H-1B visas. There should be punishingly high tax consequences for outsourcing American jobs. There should be aggressive enforcement of age discrimination laws. Some CIOs and CEOs need to go to jail, for the good of the country.

  • Michael November 25, 2009 12:34 am

    Where is the need to find local talent when the present information and collaboration means advocate a global workforce? Despite whatever opposition that's there against outsourcing, plain ICS is going to drive IT business to southeast Asian English-speaking countries.

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