I recently sat with a friend from another consultancy, and we started discussing how long we had been in SAP consulting – a long time we concluded. This then lead to a conversation about how we seemed to be lacking any discernible young talent coming up behind us that we were influencing. As senior consultants, we were leading teams and mentoring the less experienced as well as customers at times. But we did not seem to be having the same experience as the people who mentored and taught us.
This thought bounced back and forward and we thought of various reasons for this and I have continued to think about this as it directly affects my family, specifically my brother who as a mature student is going to graduate in 2 years from University- he will be competing as an older person within a much more global workplace.
My friend and I came up with a few reasons,
- Technology Infrastructure is not sexy – SAP Basis is even less so.
I have come to the realisation that in many respects as an admin I was a digital plumber, even the move to consulting, effectively the equivalent move to becoming a digital firefighter, did not help – I am not any sexier and certainly not on a calendar. In the UK we have a very funny way of valuing the professions of various members of society, much different from our European cousins, these values have been the subjects of many academic studies which I have no wish to repeat here, but suffice to say technical or science based employment is not viewed as a worthy as that of a banker or a solicitor. There are very few mainstream role models in the technology world that can inspire people to go into these technical/scientific areas, even though these areas are actually the lifeblood and underpinning everything that makes our society function. Then again, why should we be looking for role models, the jobs themselves should stand on their own merit, but damn it, when you have TV shows like ER or Silks showing a very stylised view of Medicine and Law is it any wonder people are drawn to these professions – the best that techies have is inept Chuck, the hilarious IT Crowd or any number of movies which persist the nerd/geek stereotype.
- Global competition for work has widened resource pools by a factor of many.
When I started in SAP Basis, off-shoring in it’s current form was in it’s infancy ( The UK throughout it’s colonial history has been a fantastic consumer of out-sourcing and off-shoring work.) I remember attending a number of sites in the early 2000′s and seeing large consultancies working on implementations. There were 30 graduates, working late into the evening and walking the rows of PCs like exam invigilators were 3 or 4 senior consultants, this was a sight repeated across many customers and was accepted as a double edged sword by all
- Customers were able to work directly with their implementation partner, on site every day
- Customers could see and identify the people they were working with and their experience, good or bad
- Graduates were getting hand-on real world experience, many washed out those who stayed shared in the spoils of victory
- Companies were training their graduates in public
Fast forward that a few years and these sights were taken out from customer’s sites and placed in off-shored locations, the output of the experience was exactly the same – a great many high profile bad experiences driven by many factors but ultimately saved by two things. The dedication of many believers and practitioners ensuring the good works were known and the cost model stacked in favor of off-shore.
Now we are in the second decade of the 21st Century and I have to say that, within my experience, the long game played by many of the off-shoring companies has paid off – the arguments against off-shoring have given way to new methodologies that support it better and the relative experience of people has increased. I am working with friends and colleagues who have over 6 years experience, we live on different continents, have different life experiences which drives different project dynamics from what people were used to in the late 1990s and early 2000s, but these are people I trust and am very lucky to include as friends.
The question I still have is where is the generation of consultants I am supposed to be mentoring, I have been mentored by people and I have seen many friends and colleagues mentored, but I seem to be missing a fresh young soul to sit beside me and have me challenge them. When I look at my team, the youngest people are mostly a continent away, which worries me as I do have a vested interest in this question due to my brother and his entry into the workforce. Have UK companies and governments sold out their youth in favour of profits and the perception of acceptance of the global workforce? There is no easy answer to this when you look below the surface of these questions, but I think ultimately the answer is Yes. We are all complicit in encouraging an uneven playing field which dis-advantages our young people, more so than our neighbours who offer no apology for their policies. These are some of the thoughts from friends and colleagues on where we have been going wrong all these years and major contributors to the situation.
- University fees (Guardian review)- the UK has recently increased it’s University fees to a maximum of £9,000 per year. There are many arguments for this (the Browne Review)and against it (the NUS response), but ultimately I think professional bodies need to look hard at their educational requirements and decide if Universities are serving their best interests. This is an article for an increase in funding for differing education methods
- Over education (Guardian review)- Richard Branson has been shown in Wikileaks’ cable releases to deride the ‘over -education’ of UK entrepreneurs, a message which taken in context of his actual point – something made by many, is that the UK Education system does not support entrepreneurs. I know many people who would rather work for a smaller business than a larger multi-national. This is an interesting counterpoint to Richard Branson’s and Alan Sugars argument.
- Devaluation of qualifications (Daily Mail article)- Every year the media decry the way exams are becoming easier, which may be the case, ultimately we are systematically devaluing our own education system but also abdicating responsibility for it. As people with vested interests in business and as parents or relatives, we have left the education of our young people with teachers whilst at the same time removed the tools for them to do it effectively (Times article on parental responsibility). This an excellent analysis by Ben Goldacre on the subject, and also an analysis of ‘sub-prime’ degrees
- Visa restrictions (Financial Times review) – These items above have created a skills gap in UK companies, which have been filled by competition within the Global workforce – as it should. The current government in the UK and in various other governments have started putting clear limits on the number of Visa’s issued for specific skills. This is causing massive pain in businesses that rely on these skills (Globalvisas.com review), because they have been encouraged to use a model that now is accepted to being damaging to their long term survival. When starting a project now, I have to be careful as to when I bring people on-shore with regard to visa restrictions and project timelines – will they be able to come over for workshops and not affect their ability to be here for the go-live? (Example story from India)
Like most things in this life, there is no easy answer to this question – all I can hope for is that he gets the same chances I was given and has a good mentor. As his older brother, I am doing my best to look out for him and give him the best leg up I can using my own network – but that is a whole other conversation of it’s own (Guardian article on Social Mobility)