Interview with Anju Bajaj, CEO, Zuna Infotech, Inc.
Situation: The US economy is slowly trying to get back on its feet, but many potential obstacles remain. In the mid-west, there is good talent with deep enterprise-level IT experience, and lots of new young talent looking for positions. How can private business help to retool the workforce and boost employment?
Advice from Anju Bajaj:
Working in IT services to provide end-to-end technology solutions, we have found highly skilled talent in the American Midwest. In recent years, many seasoned IT professionals have lost their jobs as Midwestern companies downsized. These individuals have deep enterprise level IT skills, but may not be up to speed with the latest technologies. There are also many brilliant young people available who have good web-based technology skills, but no experience in legacy systems or the working of complex enterprises. Our focus is on cross-training both groups as they collaborate to build IT solutions for our customers.
We have found that by organizing these two groups into small teams, guided by a lead who knows both web-based and legacy systems, we can leverage their individual strengths to cross-train each other. It turns out that both sets of workers are smart, capable and, in live project settings, collaborate and acquire technical skills and domain knowledge relatively quickly.
The bigger and more subtle challenge is teaching younger workers about business processes. Each process must fit the workflow so that a process change in one area doesn’t produce difficulties in other areas. For this, you need to have people with deep expertise in functional and domain disciplines as well as technical experts. By teaming talent, we can produce functional experts who understand all areas. We have found that in three to six months of working together, about 25% of team members reach almost guru status; while the remaining 75% have become quite skilled.
Like most leading service providers, we at Zuna Infotech also build capability through our Centers of Excellence. We focus on developing practices within different industry verticals. With this comes knowledge and structure which we can then pass on through train-the-trainer programs.
We have been inspired by the desire to help keep US workers working while retooling their skills. The results that we’ve found to date have been very encouraging. We hope that this can provide a model for other companies.
Interview with Muhammed Chaudhry, CEO, Silicon Valley Education Foundation
Situation: A critical component for the future of technology in the US is a workforce trained in math and the sciences. In Santa Clara County, California – the heart of Silicon Valley – only 49% of high school students complete University of California/CSU qualifying courses, and only 26% of Hispanic students. How can private industry contribute to the improvement of education and the training of future workers?
Advice from Muhammed Chaudhry:
Silicon Valley Education Foundation’s objective is to make Silicon Valley the number one region in California in student readiness for college and careers. It has been shown that the top predictor of college success is the completion of Algebra II in high school. Our primary program – Stepping Up to Algebra – focuses on students and teachers to increase the number of students who are ready for Algebra I in 8th Grade. To date 2,500 kids have gone through our program.
We actively encourage private industry to get involved in our programs and to invest in solutions that work. We call this involvement Work, Wealth and Wisdom.
Let’s talk about Work:
Our aim is for every business person to make it a priority to invest time in public education. This takes an investment – we ask for a consistent investment of 4-5 days a year.
Next is Wealth:
We encourage every business person to sign up to our Sustainer Program. The commitment is modest – only $5 per month to support our activities.
We encourage corporations to Adopt a Classroom for $10,000.
Finally we have Wisdom:
We encourage business people to get involved. We need help designing technology products that enhance learning and in formulating a blended learning approach.
We need to improve the enabling of technology in our schools to improve individualized learning to maximize the potential of each student.
We need support and involvement in policy work by contributing business thinking. Education has lessons to learn from business.
There is room for innovators who are interested in social benefit and long-term investment with profit as a secondary consideration.