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For IT Jobs, an Untapped Vein of Talent

By Kim S. Nash, CIO
February 24, 2010 06:33 PM ET

CIO - If we keep going the way we are now, this year we will outsource one in four IT jobs to India, Russia and other countries that supply low-cost labor, according to the Hackett Group, a trend that sends a message to young people contemplating technology careers: IT work is unstable. You can't count on climbing any career ladder.

College freshman get it. In 2000, 5.2 percent of incoming students intended to major in computer science. By 2008, according to the latest data from the National Science Foundation, that number had plummeted to 1.5 percent.

The need for technology staff who work locally hasn't gone away, however. Although some economists now warn of a near-jobless recovery, the number of U.S. professional and business services jobs, including those in IT, will grow 1 percent to 2 percent per year, according to Moody's Economy.com.

Yet CIOs are faced with a dry pipeline of entry-level staff. At the same time, tens of thousands of young people between the ages of 18 and 25 live in poverty in the major cities that are home to most of the available IT jobs. They're too old for government social services programs that may have provided food and financial support when they were children. Now they seek work, but lack the training to land most jobs beyond serving food or cleaning offices. A college education usually isn't an option because they haven't taken the right high school classes or have dropped out. And, of course, they don't have the money.

Matching the most promising of these young people with an IT opportunity solves two problems: It meets the urgent need for new technology workers and the crying need for pathways out of poverty. And so CIOs have been working with a handful of nonprofits to recruit candidates from the toughest neighborhoods in the nation to train for technology careers. Graduates of these youth training programs--the most notable of which are Year Up and NPower--get internships and often jobs at top firms. For the CIOs involved with these groups, it's not just a feel-good way to give back. They're tapping what had been an invisible talent pool and diversifying their staffs. They also like the ROI they get from investing in recruits who are hungry to learn by doing.

To read more on this topic, see: Where the IT Jobs Are: 10 American Cities and Smallest Number of Students in a Decade Graduate with Computer Science Degrees in 2007.

"Doing something for the community but at the same time getting access to young, ambitious talent helps to energize the organization," says John Galante, CIO of the Private Client Workstation program at JPMorgan Chase, which has sponsored the New York chapters of Year Up and NPower for several years. The $100 billion financial services firm currently employs interns in hardware support and software quality testing, among other areas.

But none of this is as simple as it sounds. The programs are succeeding in several cities but aren't available nationally. As nonprofits, they rely largely on corporate funding, and thus depend on corporate fortunes. The 11 to 26 weeks of training typically offered is, by design, tightly focused on specific technologies or concepts; graduates still have much to learn about both IT and corporate life. Skeptical CIOs have to be convinced that taking on these young people as interns, never mind hiring them full time, is worth the hand-holding and the risk. Not everyone makes it.

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