The American Electronics Association released a report this week that should wake up even the most skeptical of recruiters or managers. According to the AEA, the number of college students graduating with high-tech degrees fell 5 percent between 1990 and 1996. The AEA says preliminary results for 1997 and 1998 show that the trend in fewer high-tech degrees is continuing. The study measured the number of students graduating from college with engineering, physics, computer science, and math degrees. The study also found that foreign nationals account for a growing percentage of high-tech degrees, and 45 percent of doctorate-level degrees. While this report doesn’t delve into why more students don’t choose a high tech career, it does point out a simple fact. It will become increasingly difficult to find enough engineers, programmers, and computer scientists to meet the growing needs of American businesses (as if it were easy now). As we move commerce to the Internet, as we focus more and more on the computer as the intermediary between us and the world; people who can design, build and program the computer; build semiconductors; write programs; create web pages, and translate the electronic world into a world everyone can understand will be vital to business success. The talent that exits outside the United States is large, diverse, and very available. From India to Russia to Thailand and Brazil, youth see technology as a way to prosperity and as an entrance to the modern world. While fewer Americans choose high tech careers, an increasing number of Asians and Europeans are choosing technical studies and are available. American companies, instead of worrying about increasing visa quota for immigrants, should be figuring out how to move segments of their business to these countries. It is not always necessary or even desirable to build everything in the United States. Customers exist everywhere, why shouldn’t employees? Web pages tailored to a particular culture are most likely going to more effective than those translated from our culture. Semiconductors can be produced in the region where they are consumed rather than being produced in the United States and then exported. Other than mindset, tradition, and lack of understanding, there is no reason to not have employees scattered all over the globe. Why not have a virtual team of programmers, as Microsoft, Hewlett-Packard, and IBM do — all around the world passing the work from one to another through each time zone? Why not begin to expand our boundaries and our thinking to embrace a larger world? As I spent several years of my life in Asia, some as a VP of HR of a semiconductor company staffing Asian operations, it became very clear that there is a vast supply of talent — very well educated talent — just begging for work, challenges, and opportunity. But, American firms are very provincial and think in very local terms. Many firms are uneasy about opening branches in other states to say nothing of other countries. Some firms are still too focused on control, on physical presence, and on activity rather than results. And, when we define work as “showing up” instead of as accomplishing real, measurable things, we have a major problem with virtual teams and global recruiting. Yet, organizations that figure out how to expand operations to other countries, how to tap the incredible talent pools there, and set up training programs to get this talent oriented to their needs will be the winners in the next century. In this year’s annual report for General Electric, Jack Welch, Chairman and CEO says: “…our challenge is to go beyond [sourcing products and services globally]- to capitalize on the vast intellectual capital available around the globe. In 1999, we will move aggressively to broaden our definition of globalization by increasing the intensity of our effort to search out and attract the unlimited pool of talent that is available in the countries in which we do business – from software designers in India to product engineers in Mexico, Eastern Europe and China. The GE of the next century must provide high-value global products and services, designed by global talent, for global markets.” General Electric, particularly under Welch, has been a leader in forging new ideas that pay off in huge profits and growth. I have no doubt that this challenge will be met and that GE will remain in that elite top 1 or 2 companies in the world in profit and sales growth. It will take the foresighted approach to staffing that GE is demonstrating to be successful in this new century. As the final 250 or so days of this century quickly go by, where are you and your firm in moving beyond the borders of the Unites States to source talent? Are you working to develop solutions to problems that may require global virtual teams and new types of training and learning? Some of the companies that I know are doing this include Sun Microsystems, Oracle, Hewlett-Packard, IBM, and GE. Here are a few ideas on how to get started:
- Start developing a database of potential candidates that live outside the United States. Get referrals from friends, from people you have recently placed, and from the Internet. Begin to include, not exclude, people who contact you from anywhere in the world. Focus on one or two regions or even countries and get to know the employment situation, the kinds of people available, and their primary interests and skills.
- Look for opportunities to communicate with these people. Send out emails (try some of the new translating programs offered by Alta Vista and others to get your ideas roughly translated for those who may not speak English well), use the telephone, and start building relationships even though they may not pay off for a long time.
- Become knowledgeable about visas and the issues involved in bringing people to the US to work. It is easier and less expensive than many companies and recruiters think. There are many web sites, consulting firms, and employment services for companies who wish to tap into this talent pool. The more you know, the better you can serve both the candidates and your employer.
- Encourage management to expand their thinking about where to set up a new operation or where to headquarter a new project. Why not suggest another country? Travel is downright cheap these days and email and the Internet make communicating simpler and easier than it has ever been in the history of the world. Moving work to the people may be a much more productive solution than moving people to the work.
- Seek out employment in firms that have a global perspective. If you don’t, you may find yourself short of assignments or out of a job. Whether we like it or not, global recruiting is here. You can develop networks, global skills and relationships early or race to catch up (maybe unsuccessfully) a few years from now.