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Posts Tagged ‘Skills’

Weeks ago, my daughter visiting from US brought a small device.

It was a night lamp. With a motion sensor!

Peel off the cover on its back and stick it to the wall and you’re on. As simple as that.

So when it finds someone walking, it lights up the way.

And thoughtfully it comes in pairs.

Useful to help the old, for example, when they get up in the night sleepy-eyed to go to toilet. One device for the way up and another for return, especially when there is a bend.

Costs some $25 to $30.

Here’s a simple device that makes tending a wee bit easier and life safer for the old. Am sure there must be other uses too.

But it’ll be years before it’s made in this country, if at all.

It’s nothing new – the concept and the opportunity of putting electronics and miniaturization to help in daily life for some strange reason never captured the fancy of young engineers and entrepreneurs in this country. And with it a huge potential for employment for self and others.

What happened years ago comes to mind. I had a long daily commute from Chembur to workplace in Seepz. At one point in Ghatkopar, our vehicle would tee off into the road through Asalpha. After plodding through heavy traffic for a few kilometers unsuspectingly, we would find the road blocked – merrily dug up by the authorities or some utility company.  What else but to trace back to the point and take a long detour losing precious time in the busy morning hours. Why couldn’t they tell us about it in time? A communication problem amenable to some simple solution with electronics. Of course, in absence of anything else, a placard with an announcement would have served the purpose.

The arrival of and the revolution brought in by pagers and later mobile devices elsewhere in the world failed miserably to ignite any kind of similar innovation in this land.

This is not limited only to the field of communication. Consider this simple but dire need: Until recently we did not have a reliable and inexpensive way of timely switching on and off of pumps drawing water from the municipal mains to storage tanks atop apartments. The guy on duty would turn on the pump, go goofing about and return ‘aaraamse’ from his chai and gossip and switch it off but not before the floors and adjacent parts of the road had been washed clean by the overflowing water. Even today in times when water is scarce, installing these devices are not mandated by corporations to plug wastage!! A small opportunity to create a market place for electronics and its supply chain missed 😦

Areas like entertainment electronics, avionics, computers…are ‘to dhoor ki bhat’.

With a huge population, increased urbanization, improved standard of living and the burgeoning need for a range of services, possibilities of tapping into electronics are mind-boggling.

But we won’t – it’ll all come from China or Taiwan while our youth bitch and moan, blame the government for the ills or in some parts of the country turn into professional protesters available to politicians for hire! Or, turn into programmers!

To heck with sensors, devices, prime-movers, iot…as long as we have those dumb guys in China churning them out…

Is it because tinkering with things is essentially not part of our dna? We make poor engineers with hardware? Of course we always made pots and beads, as archaeological digs reveal. No questions.

So much for leadership in education, enterprise and nation building:-(

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PS: Have no idea how ISRO and a few organizations in defense and private sectors pull along amidst such a dismal ecosystem. Just as it’s a wonder how those magnificent temple edifices in the south and elsewhere were constructed – did China supply them too? Kidding 🙂

This time I’m not kidding. At the risk of appearing quixotic, may I suggest for every software professional of ours US employs directly or indirectly, we employ/import a technician, engineer or an entrepreneur from that country to the extent BOP allows. This will give us a kick-start in real engineering capabilities with hardware and establishing a nourishing ecosystem we are unable to set up on our own.

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Hiring a

That was frivolous – but not what follows:

An interesting article on the subject of managing the talent available to the organization appeared recently in Forbes that presents perspectives known and new of great significance to both employers as well as employees of now and future.

Here are some excerpts (in quotes) with minimal paraphrasing (in italics) and there is some re-sequencing and emphasis (underlined), entirely mine, to improve the flow and readability, I thought:

The challenge: “Ask anybody who manages a business and they will tell you how important it is to hire the right people. Top companies recruit at the most selective schools, offer excellent pay packages, generous benefits and a comfortable work environment… Unfortunately, it seems that even the best firms are facing a widening skills gap and it will only get worse… Clearly, if businesses are to remain competitive, they need talented people…with the right skills…all the time. Talent, therefore, has become as central as marketing or finance to corporate strategy.

The volatility of technologies… is rendering old skills useless. So even if your workforce is highly qualified by today’s standards, they might not be tomorrow.

Yes, that soon. While the threat of technology obsolescence is not new, the immediacy of it happening is scary, forcing a rethink on how we manage talent.

Writing on the wall for the employees: “It used to be that you would choose a career, join a company and work there for your entire career. Clearly, that time has passed. As business models rise and fall, firms need to adapt and acquire new skills in order to stay competitive.

Hiring

Skills in demand: “In past generations, prosperity was primarily an issue of high-skill versus low skill jobs and a poorly educated, low-skill workforce could be upgraded through training and education…things aren’t so clear-cut anymore because the types of skills needed in the new economy have changed…Going forward, it seems that there are two broad areas that will continue to be in demand: people skills and design skills…So, not surprisingly, most good jobs are design related (broadly defined to include, engineering, software, marketing, etc.).

By ‘design’ it seems to imply platform independent design skills for it adds in the same breath design skills like Flash development suffer from the same danger of rapid obsolescence.

Training: This is not entirely a surprise.

Top firms have long understood the need to invest training and some, like McDonald’s and General Electric, have gone to great lengths to develop extensive corporate training programs. More recently, executive education programs at universities have also begun to play an important role in developing new skills. However, training of lower level employees is often neglected, but shouldn’t be. One study comparing Costco and Sam’s Club found that by investing more in front line personnel, Costco was able to increase revenues while actually lowering costs.

Compensation: “MIT’s Zeynep Ton, author of ‘The Good Jobs Strategy’, has found in her research that well-trained well-paid employees are not a cost driver, but a sales driver. A higher paid workforce results in less turnover and better customer service. Even in retail, companies that invest in people outperform.

A model useful in the job market: “Elance (www.elance.com) has come up with a new model for talent to fill the gap. On the surface, it’s just another freelance service, acting as a go-between for companies that need short-term help with projects and people looking for work. But take a closer look and it becomes clear that the company is far more ambitious than that. It tracks employments trends so freelancers can see where demand for skills is increasing and where it is declining. The firm also offers more than 20,000 training courses so that people can build new skills to meet demand. Then, as freelancers perform jobs and gain expertise, they build up their profiles and increase their earning power.

Contract Workers, an engagement model useful to the employers: “Increasingly, work is project based. A company might need to develop a new website or have marketing materials prepared or build a new feature for an existing platform. This creates short-term demand for non-core skills that may not make sense to retain full time. Elance has come up with an interesting solution it calls talent clouds. Rather than keeping talent on staff, employers can build their own network of freelancers, track their performance on projects and keep up with their progress learning new skills. So if they liked working with a Flash developer last year, they can see if he’s now certified in HTML5.”

Near-exclusive employment: While on the subject of contract workers, I bring up a related model, not part of the original article, that opens up interesting possibilities.

I would extend the problem and solution offered by contract employment to cover SME’s (Subject Matter Experts) too where the problems are more severe. An IT services organization lands customers from a variety of industry segments. For instance in one project we needed someone to tell us about production of photographic films and in another we wanted insights on simulation of chemical reactions. A long felt need is for a clearing-house for domain experts in various fields of specialization whose expertise could be used on a part-time basis. The one reason it has not taken off yet, I guess, is these experts are employed somewhere and their terms of employment forbids them to take up external assignments even if the experiences promise to enrich the experts’ skills eventually benefitting their employers. I’m for organizations to allow this kind of engagement as long as there is no conflict of interest. The engagement model could vary from an individual rendering services as a project consultant or it could even be packaged formally as the organization’s services. See the Xerox example cited elsewhere. Clandestine and unethical practices if any would then be replaced by formal engagements.

The current model of exclusive full employment is inefficient and wastes talent, a scarce commodity in societies. Time has come to try out near-full employment. This could be a more light-weight and cheaper alternative to conventionally engaging a consulting house. Before you rubbish the idea think of this: this is already in practice in the academic world.

Academic Partnerships: “Another strategy that some firms are adopting is partnering with universities to ensure that students are graduating with the skills they need. IBM, for example, has built an open source curriculum and works with over 1000 universities.

Well, this is quite successfully practiced for years now by IT organizations in India at least. They are known to work with professional training institutes, often designing custom curriculum. Working with universities had posed a problem. I recall years ago when the teaching community was in a fix – teaching Windows in the course on Operating Systems was considered improper since it meant ‘promotion of a commercially proprietary platform’. May be they have resolved those issues now.

Strategic Partnerships: “As complicated as the world has become, the truth is that no company can build all the skills it needs, but many are learning to fill the gap with partnerships. For example, Xerox’s legendary PARC Labs now undertakes projects for a variety of companies… Yet, to be effective, these relationships have to be cultivated, monitored and deepened. Partnerships can no longer be treated as mere supply relationships, but extensions of the talent ecosystem.

A vendor is also an important resource to reduce the high cost in-house structure. Where as it is not uncommon to look at our vendor with suspicion, as a necessary evil and even as a threat. We hold up his bills and even poach on his critical resources while he looks on helplessly. Hopefully good sense will prevail in course of time. It requires quite a change in thinking to assume greater responsibility for a vendor’s survival and success.

Open Platforms: “Another way that firms are tapping into talent is through open technology. Rather than building products as closed platforms, they are providing resources, such as SDK’s and API’s, so that outside developers can enhance and expand the capabilities that were designed in-house. After all, the value of an iPhone depends not just on the hardware and the operating system, but on the hundreds of thousands of apps that others have built for it. In a similar vein, IBM recently opened up its Watson platform to outside developers to help reap the benefits of external talent.

This movement has taken firm roots and is irreversible.

The New War For Talent: “In 1997, McKinsey declared a ‘War for Talent’ and advised their clients to focus on recruiting and retaining the “best and the brightest.” They suggested that firms should create a compelling “employee value propositions,” invest in A players, develop B players and move quickly to get rid of C players.

However, those types of distinctions have become anachronisms. Today, you need not only a strong value proposition for employees, but for everybody in your talent ecosystem. Further, an “A player” with yesterday’s skills isn’t going to do you much good…

Most of all, in today’s semantic economy, it’s not the resources you own that are important, but what resources you can access and that’s especially true of talent.

What to speak of ‘everybody in the talent ecosystem’? Do you honestly think we make a real good value proposition to the employees and the prospective hires in the first place? The hires-facing personnel hardly exude the excitement.

Finally: Horse-whipping the recruitment function in an organization is not the whole solution to ensure right talent is available at all times. It requires a more holistic and multi-pronged approach including inducting newer models of engagement. Who would bell this cat? HR?

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Source: http://www.forbes.com/, Images from the Net.

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Greg Satell in an article in Digitaltonto talks about the challenges faced by the Millennials in US. That is the post–Generation X, born between 1977-1998.

“However, this new generation has a problem. They are coming of age at a time in history when great technological forces are converging to democratize the use of complex and powerful machines, which is giving a false sense of validation to their youthful exuberance and making it easy for them to ignore hard truths. Here are some of them, unvarnished.”

One of the hard truths in his list is skills.

“I think every generation has its challenges. The problem with this one is that they are so misunderstood. Everybody seems to think that they are too techie and should get more “real” when in fact they aren’t nearly technological enough.”

I can see many of you are already on your feet even if you’re not the target of Greg’s truths. But wait for a moment, let Greg explain what he means by the above rather summary indictment.

“…Truth #2: Your Skills Are Substandard

You are, it must be said, not alone. The United States comprises but a small fraction of the world’s population and most of your youthful compatriots live outside of it. I’ve spent most of my adult life overseas and have had the opportunity to know many of them well.

In Ukraine, I developed a training program that ushered over two hundred young people into professional life and I interviewed each one personally. The typical candidate was about 20 years old, spoke five languages and could do econometric modeling. The starting salary was $200/month and we never lacked applicants…”

Ah, that’s what comes out of Ukraine. I’ve heard similar stories in the past from Lithuania and Latvia too.

How does our crop of young IT professional fare in comparison?

Our IT services organizations are not complaining – they seem to be getting exactly what they need. The info-age workers are happy with the cash and the bash and so are the factories churning them out by the clock.

A cozy party…Please Do Not Disturb.

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Source: digitaltonto.com; openclipart.com and wackywits.com

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