Cisco channels its energy into skills shortage

Vendor has commits to helping partners recruit and retain staff

Cisco Systems has declared the IT worker shortage to be its number one prohibitor to growth. Cisco's goal of becoming a US$50 billion (NZ$67 billion) company by 2010 will be unattainable if the skills shortage is not addressed. The company has developed a pilot programme starting in the US 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, vice-president of worldwide channels, Cisco will be unable to maintain its level of growth (20%) without talented people to support it.

"We could be in a place, if we do not deal with it proactively, where we possibly will be hampered. If you do not have the people you will not see the growth," Peres says.

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 says Cisco's partner community is currently made up of 220,000 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%, with some productivity gains you would need to double the amount of people to get to the $50 billion," Peres says.

He believes Cisco and its channel will need a total of 410,000 IT workers, of which 95,000 or more would need to 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 says productivity gains will solve 50% of the problem. For example, the quote builder software program has been able to reduce the time channel partners need to properly prepare quotes from two days to 30 minutes. "That is an example of a productivity gain," he says.

Harper-Guerra says today's talent shortage is a result of declining enrolment 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 says.

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 says.

"Talent can now make choices," she says.

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 partners to attain and retain top IT talent for the future. They are:

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

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

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

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 10th anniversary and is in 160 countries and has graduated more than two million people.

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

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

The recent collapse of the mortgage industry in the US, 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 says.

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