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Cisco takes on the talent shortage

Networking giant announces an initiative to improve the IT talent pool in the channel

Dublin, Ireland – The current IT worker shortage is viewed as an industry problem, but Cisco Systems doesn’t think so.

The company, based in San Jose, Calif., declared the IT worker shortage is its No. 1 prohibitor to growth. Cisco’s goal of becoming a $50 billion company by 2010 will be unattainable if the skills shortage is not addressed. The company has developed a pilot program starting in the U.S. market under the guidance of Celia Harper-Guerra, who will hold the title of senior director of worldwide channels. Harper-Guerra is a former human resources executive with 15 years experience at Cisco.

According to Edison Peres, the vice president of worldwide channels, Cisco would be unable to maintain its level of growth (20 per cent and higher than the industry average) without talented people to support it.

“We could be in a place if we do not deal with it proactively where we possible will be hampered. If you do not have the people you will not see the growth,” Peres said.

Since the vast majority of Cisco’s business is indirect solving the IT shortage in the channel community is an important part of its talent initiative.

Peres said Cisco’s partner community is currently made up of 220,000 total individuals of which 57,000 are certified. This community does not include Linksys or Scientific Atlanta partners.

“We looked at this and with some simple arithmetic you say if you want to grow to $50 billion by 2010, which is 20 per cent, with some productivity gains you would need to double the amount of people to get to the $50 billion,” Peres said.

He believes Cisco and its channel would need a total of 410,000 IT workers of which 95,000 or more hold at least one certification.

Under this talent initiative, Cisco anticipates that some of the shortage will be made up by people being more productive.

Peres said that productivity gains will solve 50 per cent of the problem. For example, the quote builder software program has been able to reduce the time channel partner’s need to properly prepare quotes from two days to 30 minutes. “That is an example of a productivity gain,” he said.

Harper-Guerra said today’s talent shortage is a result of declining enrollment in schools. She believes parents are not encouraging children to get into the IT industry as a career because of the dot-com bubble.

Another reason is that primary and secondary school teachers are unable to communicate the opportunities available in IT.

Compounding the problem are baby boomers who are exiting the marketplace.“This is where the gap is,” she said.

The gap used to be closed by talented people coming from India and Russia, but because those two economies have greatly improved over the past few years that talent pool is staying put, she said.

“Talent can now make choices,” she added.

From a partner perspective, attaining and retaining talent is harder because they do not have the brand recognition of a Cisco, an IBM or an HP.

Secondly, they do not have the infrastructure to go out and put together a recruitment strategy.

Thirdly, the cost of a branding campaign is high.

With that Harper-Guerra has developed four key initiatives for Cisco and its channel to attain and retain top IT talent for the future.

1. Building a recruitment playbook that partners can leverage. The playbook will have workforce planning attraction strategies and other best practices.

2 . Develop a seeding talent plan with career roadmaps and other talent transformation strategies.

3. Retaining staffers through employment loyalty, leadership and rewards programs.

4. The partner talent portal, which is a repository of all talent related tools and processes.

Harper-Guerra will also meet with education policy makers to change the perception of IT. She will also promote Cisco’s Networking Academies to partners. This academy is celebrating its tenth anniversary and is in 160 countries and had graduated more than two million people.

The allocation of talent to the channel will start with Cisco’s Gold, Silver and Premier partners.

Also part of the talent initiative is to look at other industries such as military and pharmaceutical for talent pools to increase the number of IT workers.

The recent collapse of the mortgage industry, for example, is an area Harper-Guerra will be targeting for talent pools.

“These are great places we do not look at for talent pools,” she said.