Recruiting solution: invest in U.S. workers

Although I didn't attend C3 Expo this year, I read that Red Hat CEO Matthew Szulik gave a keynote speech in which he made some comments that have left me a little miffed. If he did make the remarks, I would hope that, because he is a leader, Szulik is willing to offer solutions to the problems he cited, rather than simply moan about the way things are.

According to published reports, Szulik lamented, "My problem is not marketing or competing externally. My biggest problem is recruiting." The Red Hat chief pinned the blame on two factors: the poor state of education in the United States and the decline of government investment in technology R&D. It seems he is using these excuses to justify Red Hat's hiring two-thirds of its new employees from abroad last year.

So another U.S. technology company wants highly skilled employees and can't find them at home. Is Szulik willing to put his money where his mouth is?

I see Red Hat turned a tidy profit last year. I wonder whether the company is willing to put a portion of this back into programs that help educate and develop U.S. workers. That sounds reasonable to me, considering Szulik sees employee recruitment as such a critical problem.

He even identified a program that would probably appreciate an influx of cash from a company such as Red Hat. The Sakai Project is a community source software-development effort to design, build and deploy a collaboration and learning environment for higher education. Just as the open source community collaborates for the greater good of Linux, the Sakai Project develops courseware to be shared by colleges and universities. An investment would be a great way for Red Hat to show its support for the open source model, as well as help improve the state of U.S. education.

If Red Hat has a few dollars left over after supporting the Sakai Project, perhaps Szulik can write his next check to the Computing Technology Industry Association Educational Foundation. The foundation's mission is to develop qualified and productive entry-level IT workers, with the hopes of eliminating the industry's skills shortages. Even if Red Hat isn't hiring entry-level IT staff, the company's customers could benefit from the development of good technical people to administer all those Linux systems.

Red Hat probably wants people with advanced computer science or software engineering degrees. It is looking for "the best and the brightest" of college recruits, according to the company Web site. Rather than hire them all from India, what if Szulik convinced his board to fund a few grants and scholarships at nearby Stanford University? Just think; maybe such a scholarship would help the next Larry Page or Sergey Brin (co-founders of Google) obtain his or her Ph.D. in computer science.

I don't mean to pick on Red Hat or Szulik. After all, he's not the only high-profile technology leader to complain about not being able to hire enough qualified people in the United States. Bill Gates made the same claims on behalf of Microsoft. If Gates would only put his money where his mouth is when it comes to developing the next generation of computer scientists!

My point is that it takes money to help develop the highly skilled workers that the high-tech companies all want. If even a handful of these companies would be willing to invest some of their profits back into the development of people, they might not have to look overseas for the next great superstar. Our high schools and universities - as well as our tech companies - have plenty of people who possess the intelligence and ambition to pursue advanced technical degrees. With a few well-placed scholarships and guaranteed employment from companies such as Red Hat, Microsoft, Intel or IBM, these folks can pursue their dreams and at the same time fulfill a desperate recruiting need for the tech firms.

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