Working for a staffing company and living the life of a consultant for many years, I believe it safe to say I have learned a great deal about how employment is done in our country, and particularly, how it is done in IT. I don’t think it takes a genius to see it is broken.
I have been doing some recent work with NOVA (with SIS support I conducted a one month deep-dive into Agile and Scrum with NOVA participants) and was introduced to ProMatch by Jennifer Cheyer of NOVA. I have also been working with Fred Fowler and his Scrum training class that recently completed a public/private partnership with Silicon Valley Polytechnic Institute (SVPI), Coding Dojo (a coding “bootcamp”), NOVA/ProMatch,, the Taylor Family Foundation (a non-profit) and SIS, Inc. It is an amazing story of what can be accomplished when people work to align motivations. I encourage you to check out their story.
Since some of the work was done with ProMatch, I was curious to see what they did and how I could help them. I went to one of the ProMatch meetings yesterday in Sunnyvale, California and it was then I was reminded of just how sorely broken our employment system is. According to its website “ProMatch is a collaboration between EDD (Employment Development Department of the State of California) and the NOVA Job Center” and “is a powerful networking program for unemployed Silicon Valley professionals … over 200 active members and a waiting time of approximately one month to join.”
I hope that you take a moment to let that sink in. Companies complaining that they cannot find good people, so much so that they have to go outside to United States through programs like H1B (or worse yet, ship work completely offshore), while there are over 200 people actively looking for work. There are so many good people looking for work that there is a waiting list to enroll in a program that helps them to find work. Hate to veer to political, but if anyone is still mystified by the Trump and Sanders “phenomenon” they should look no further than a ProMatch meeting in Silicon Valley!
The number is more staggering when you actually show up in person. The meeting is held in the Sunnyvale Council Chambers and the place is overflowing with people. The demographics are all over the board and seem to be a homogeneous representation of society at large with one exception – the age of the participants skews much older. Each new member spends a short 15 seconds to introduce themselves and what they are looking for. Not only do the individuals have diversity of race and gender, they also have a great variety of skills, high tech included. Words cannot express the amount of talent and experience in that one room.
And yet there is one thing that I found conspicuously absent – employers. Though there may have been more that I was unaware of, it appeared that the only two people representing real jobs were a former SIS, Inc.. colleague and myself. I spoke briefly with Robert Withers, a full time ProMatch employee, and he was as perplexed as I was that more employers and staffing agencies were not there. He wonders, as I do, why they do not see what he and I do when we look out at the over one hundred well-qualified applicants in the council chambers that morning.
This is why I know the “I can’t find good talent” argument is a myth. Right there in downtown Sunnyvale was a treasure trove of immense talent just waiting to be employed. The problem is that we, as a society, no longer seem to know how to invest in our people or our infrastructure. Companies no longer train their employees, but use them up and spit them out so that when they come to ProMatch their skills might be slightly outdated. They look for the “perfect” fit and don’t invest in making a close fit better. We look for cheaper through younger and overseas workers, oblivious to the fact that knowledge management is won by the best, brightest and most experienced.
The American public screams for change which is why we have seen the rise of establishment “outsiders” like Trump and Sanders. The ProMatch meeting I witnessed yesterday was the personification of the change that they American public seeks. The American public desires a world where employees are valued for their experience, where they are invested in instead of harvested. America dreams of a day when instead of a waiting list to be part of ProMatch, a meeting has been cancelled due to lack of attendees. The public/private partnership work that I am part of and alluded to at the beginning of this post is merely one small dent. What is needed is the participation of more people, more companies. We need to make this issue viral. Share it, comment on it, like it so that maybe next time I go to ProMatch (and I will keep coming back) the room will be literally crowded with representatives from all these companies crying and complaining “we can’t find any good people.”