Saturday, February 20, 2010

What India’s Talent Shortage Means for the US

Ms Kanter
Ms Kanter

What India’s Talent Shortage Means for the US

By Shyamsunder Panchavati Here is your article. Please read and comment.
Seventeen hours of air travel and dozens of aloo parathas later, I am back from India, where I gave a keynote speech and workshop on innovation for NASSCOM. NASSCOM is the association for software and services companies, AKA the BPO (business process outsourcing) companies that some Americans think have “stolen” American high tech jobs – that is, the ones left after China supposedly stole American manufacturing jobs.
I am not sure what I expected in terms of mood. Maybe it would be a bit funereal due to a recent scandal in a large Indian BPO’er, or some ethical wrist-slaps to a few leading companies by the World Bank? Or perhaps I would hear glee over the cost-cutting moves by U.S. and other Western companies that could result in sending more work to India?
Instead, I found a sober, reflective mood about the limits to growth in a global downturn. There was a call for more innovation by Indian companies and for changes in the business model to stress high value-added services instead of inexpensive labor. There was a desire to become less dependent on large Western company customers by targeting emerging countries and smaller businesses.
And there was one interesting worry: that talent could not be developed fast enough to meet the demand as IT services continue to burgeon and find more applications. My first reaction was that this is good for America, as the IT innovation capital of the world (at least to date). My second reaction was that if India, which graduates about 10 times the numbers of engineers as the U.S., worries about a technical skills shortage, what about us?
Cisco CEO John Chambers, who spoke before I did with his usual charm, repeated his company’s investment in Bangalore as its second global headquarters because of the 600,000 engineers a year that India produces. Similarly, the 80,000-plus employees of IBM India make India the second largest country after the U.S. in terms of a concentration of IBM employment.
India’s importance will only increase. Its population will surpass China’s by 2020, according to U.N. projections. Of course, the competitive race continues – NASSCOM had attendees from China who want to create a Chinese IT industry to surpass India’s. And India has a huge problem of rural poverty and urban social problems. Still, the largest and best Indian IT companies, such as Wipro and Infosys, have become increasingly sophisticated in terms of human resource development; Infosys was recently named to a Fortune magazine list of the best companies for leaders.
In the uncomfortable pause caused by a terrible recession, there is time for Americans to reflect and learn.
America will create new jobs by tapping the inventiveness of entrepreneurs who can draw on a large pool of talent with so-called STEM skills – science, technology, engineering, and math. I wish that the federal stimulus package included less money on banks and more on investment in higher education and companies of the future. Venture capital is viewed as a purely private matter in the U.S., but there can be a public sector role. Singapore’s technology leadership derives from government investment. Massachusetts had a public seed fund starting in the 1980s that lent small amounts of money along with great credibility to startups that could then more easily raise private money after the vetting and state imprimatur. (BTW, the fund made a profit for the state.)
If we cannot learn a little more of the latest sciences ourselves, we can demand this from our children’s schools. We can find or found supplementary schools, like the Saturday math school in a Boston suburb founded by Russian immigrants (and whose attendees tend to be kids from families with Indian, Russian, and Israeli origins – are parents without recent immigration status too complacent?) We can support community science and math contests and make them as popular as the Putnam County Spelling Bee of song-and-dance fame.
More knowledge of India and its talent development efforts would be a good thing for America. If more Americans might find business opportunities through ties to India or knowledge of how to stay ahead of a formidable competitor, that would be a contribution to rebuilding the U.S. economy. Even better would be a determination to improve STEM education at home.
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