Although most of Infosys’ charitable activities are, as would be expected, focused on India, the firm also has a few global programs plus more focused contributions and work in many of the other countries in which it operates. For example, it contributed to and provided logistical support to the New York City fire department after 9/11 and continues to support educational initiatives, such as New York City’s STEM Mentoring program and efforts by local governments that need help in responding to natural disasters. Recently it launched a new, very different type of program that draws specifically on some of Infosys’ unique strengths and is intended to form the foundation for a much broader initiative.
A Second Chance for Ex-Autoworkers
As I discussed in two 2011 blogs, Infosys, along with a number of other Indian and multinational IT service companies have developed world-class training programs to bring graduates from India’s uneven college system to a common base of competence. Every one of Infosys’ computer science recruits goes through a 23-week Boot Camp at its Mysore Development Center, now called the Narayana Murthy Centre of Excellence.
It is now bringing this time-tested program to the U.S. in an attempt to retrain unemployed workers for new, high-skill jobs while simultaneously helping to address a growing shortage of skilled computer scientists and programmers. In March 2012, it launched an 18-week “Software Boot Camp” to provide unemployed Detroit autoworkers with an education comparable to a BS in programming.
The idea to boost training and employment opportunities for Detroit-area workers was initially spawned in a discussion with the Office of the Science and Technology Policy in the Office of the President. Washington then put Infosys into contact with potential partners and generally stepped back to let these partners design and run the program. Among Infosys’s primary partners in this endeavor are:
- Wayne County Community College (WCCC) which will provide the facilities, manage the program and provide programming instructors who, after learning the Infosys program, will deliver it themselves and ultimately train others to deliver it;
- The Workforce Development Department, which identifies and selects candidates who have lost auto industry jobs; and
- The Detroit Economic Growth Corporation, which recruits and works with potential employers and will run a job fair to help the graduates find jobs.
Infosys is funding the entire program (which will be free to students) and is using the same curricula, courseware, exams and instructors as in Mysore. However, its Indian and U.S. programs have a few important differences. For example:
- The Mysore program is targeted at new college graduates that Infosys has already hired. The Detroit program is open to older, non-employees who, after graduation, will be able to take jobs with any employer (including Infosys, for any of its 13 U.S. development centers) from which they receive an offer.
- All Mysore students have a BS college degree in a computer science or engineering-related discipline. The Detroit program will accept graduates and non-graduates, with all types of backgrounds, who pass an entry test designed to assess analytical and quantitative capabilities.
- The Detroit program, which is targeted at older people who have work experience, has been reduced from Mysore’s 23 weeks to 18 by eliminating the “soft skills” component that help new recruits adapt to a work in a professional, corporate environment.
- While Infosys runs the Mysore program itself, the Detroit program was designed and is managed in conjunction with partners.
- Infosys instructors conduct the Mysore program. These instructors will come to the U.S. to teach the first 18-week program, while training WCCC Computer Science instructors (initially 3 instructors) to take over the teaching—initially with oversight of and guidance by Infosys instructors, and later on their own.
The Detroit program is an experiment that is intended to determine the applicability of the Infosys training program to older students (an average age of 41) with diverse backgrounds. Although Infosys declines to discuss the background of the current students until the course concludes, they are clearly not the relatively heterogeneous lot of new BS Engineering and Computer Science graduates that make up a traditional Mysore class.
The company acknowledges that these factors, combined with its goal of maximizing completion rates, may combine to limit some graduates’ employability as programmers. It does, however, expect that even those who may not get jobs as programmers will be qualified for IT administration and support roles.
Scaling the Initiative
Where will this program go in the future? This will depend largely on the success of the initial class plus the determinations of employers and as to whether changes are required. Some big questions include whether there should be minimum educational requirements (such as a two-year or a four-year degree), whether students should be required to have a STEM-related background and whether the program can be evolved into a scalable, self-sustaining program that can be delivered by a broad range of non-Infosys instructors across multiple locations.
There are, of course, also a number of more nuanced questions, such as the types of jobs for which graduates will be best suited and how to best tailor the curricula, courses and pedagogy to the needs of students and prospective employers. The answers to such questions must await completion and a formal evaluation of the first program, as well as the success of graduates in getting jobs, feedback from students, instructors and employers and, of course, of Infosys’s partners.
While these and many other decisions must await the completion of the first Detroit program, Infosys has already begun to plan to expand this program and to launch others. For example, it hopes that WCCC will be able to immediately scale to three—and longer term—four programs per year, each with about 100 students. It also hopes to apply this same model to other constituencies and other geographies. It is already outlining a program that will be tailored to the needs of returning veterans (probably in conjunction with the Veterans Administration) and has initiated conversations with colleges and universities in other areas, such as Boston and Northern Virginia.
Such programs have the potential of delivering huge value. They can, for example, help:
- Individuals acquire high-value, real-world job skills in areas for which there is strong and growing demand;
- Community colleges develop and deliver more business-aligned retaining programs;
- Cities and towns convert unemployed workers into participants in the knowledge economy; and
- Companies, across all industries, beef up their IT staffs with professionals with up-to-date, state-of-the-art skills that can deliver immediate business value.
The program can also help Infosys. Although the vast majority of the company’s previous U.S. hires have been experienced professionals, it is now beginning to hire fresh out-of-school (“freshers”) for its U.S. development centers. While Infosys will have to compete with other companies in hiring such people, the programs will provide an expanded recruiting pool of people trained in Infosys methodologies, some of whom may help fill the company’s 300 current U.S. openings.
The program will also provide a supply of talent to Infosys customers (albeit also to its competitors). Just as importantly, it has the potential of improving Infosys’s public image by demonstrating its commitment to training U.S. citizens to provide the type of services that have recently gone offshore.
Although it is too soon to know how the current or subsequent Infosys efforts will pan out, the concept shows great promise. While community colleges have long offered all types of career retaining program, many such programs have not been well suited to actual market needs, much less to the needs of specific employers. Many of those programs that have been targeted to demonstrable market needs have focused on highly company- or industry-specific skills.
The Infosys effort has the potential of combining the best of both worlds—the broad reach and multi-employer appeal of traditional community college programs, with the teaching of specific, real-world skills for which there is a proven business need. Just as importantly, Infosys is providing these colleges with valuable intellectual property in the form of curricula, training materials, exams and even instructors that have already been proven in the training of tens of thousands of people who have gone on to successful IT industry careers.
As I have written previously, this approach is exactly the type of bridge between community colleges and the private sector that is required to retrain America’s workers (and possibly, in the future, initially train some of America’s students) for the jobs of the future. (See, for example, my 2011 blog series on the Future of Community Colleges). One can only hope that the results show as much promise as the concept and that it sparks the creation of many similar programs—by Infosys and hundreds of other companies—in many different fields and in many different cities. It is, however, somewhat ironic that it has taken an Indian company to pioneer a program for which the U.S. has such a critical need.