Thursday, March 27, 2008

Business paradoxes and blaming the schools

AT&T CEO says hard to find skilled U.S. workers - Yahoo! News: "'We're having trouble finding the numbers that we need with the skills that are required to do these jobs,' AT&T Chief Executive Randall Stephenson told a business group in San Antonio, where the company's headquarters is located."

I know too many people who can't seem to get a good job anymore. They can't break past the gatekeepers.

The real problem he and a lot of other businesses are facing is a paradox. On the one hand his HR department is busy looking for ways to exclude a candidate, if it is not a 100% match they toss it. Well, I can understand that, they are probably like every other huge one, they get so many resumes a week they have no way of handling the information overload. A couple of large companies here in Denver get 4 feet of resumes every week, at least one of them recycles the pile.

So looking for a perfect match is not bad idea in itself. It is just that most people have an understanding of what they and their friends are worth. Often the salary offered is nothing like the value given so no deal is made and you end up with people who padded their resumes and can't do the work or people who can do the work and are desperate but who will jump ship as soon as they can, they are often told they are "overqualified."

In-house HR depts are very good at not hiring. I went to the AT&T site but it was so slow I couldn't have applied even if I found something. That is one of the reasons they go to headhunters, and that has it's own set of problems.

The outsourcers, on the other hand, the companies who big companies hire to actually run the off shore setup, just want body counts. Anyone that can even vaguely speak English is welcome, quickly trained and let loose on the phones. And offering a wage that is upper-middle class draws plenty of potential employees.

He's talking about customer service jobs, you know the kind where a huge shift of people sit along long tables and answer questions on the phone all day. All it really needs is basic literacy and computing skills. None of these are skills that would take more then two weeks to teach even to a dropout as long as they could read oven if slowly. Though if they are still using legacy apps to run their business the big bottleneck is an insane interface not the person as such. I worked in a place like that. We had to run two old DOS programs at once to field a single call. They were trying to update to a more modern app, but that interface design was even worse.

There are multiple problems going on here and blaming the schools is just a cop out. Maybe he should try applying to his own company and see what happens. He would be very surprised. He probably wouldn't even get one of those "We'll keep your resume on file for six months" letters.

From Jerry Pournelle

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