High-tech people satisfy jobs' needs: Continual training helps firms such as CSI retain employees
Nov 30, 2008 (The Paducah Sun - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) --
Aaron Woods realized his dream of getting a telecommunications degree from Murray State University and staying home by going to work for Paducah's Computer Services Inc.
"I wanted to work here before I went to Murray," he said. "Then I applied here, and at the first opening I got a job."
The 25-year-old Brookport, Ill., resident works as a data communications technician at CSI, one of the nation's largest bank data-processing companies. A pipeline of high-tech people from MSU, West Kentucky Community & Technical College and other regional universities helps meet CSI's needs, said Bill Perrin, human resources vice president.
"If people grew up in this area, have the education and skills and want to stay here, it's a slam dunk for us to hire them when we have openings," he said.
CSI has hired about 20 people from MSU, the University of Kentucky and the University of Louisville in the past four years, Perrin said. All told, 69 Murray graduates work at CSI, including President-CEO Steve Powless.
"CSI has more of our telecom graduates than anyone," said Danny Claiborne, chairman of the MSU Department of Industrial and Engineering Technology.
Finding and keeping high-tech workers is challenging for businesses, according to a September survey by the Fairfax County (Va.) Economic Development Authority. A fall poll of about 1,000 employees showed that nearly 40 percent would consider changing jobs to work for an organization more committed to providing access to and training in the latest technology.
Among all job sectors, professional service workers are most likely to deem technology critical to personal productivity. The poll reflected that 90 percent of those employees have that view.
"The technology worker has become one of the most valued currencies in today's economy," said Gerald L. Gordon, president-CEO of the FCEDA.
Claiborne's department graduates 50 to 75 annually, largely gobbled by many high-tech firms within a 60-mile radius of Murray. He worries that the economic slump will hinder high-tech hiring.
"Before this economy hit us pretty hard, we couldn't turn out graduates fast enough to supply industry," he said. "We have industries to tell us, 'You give us the students, and we'll teach them what we want.'"
CSI chiefly recruits through a year-round intern program that drew 18 people this year, Perrin said.
UK graduate Daniel Miller, 25, of Paducah went to work for CSI in June 2006. He has since become a recruiter of young talent for the company. Besides working directly with pipeline colleges, he heavily uses online and word-of-mouth recruiting. His wife, Ashley, got a marketing job with CSI.
"We have a referral program," Miller said. "A lot of our employees are in telecommunications and programming, and they have a lot of people they know in the industry."
The FCEDA survey showed that younger workers are more likely to emphasize technology than their older counterparts. Woods said training at CSI -- for all ages -- is continual to keep pace with rapidly evolving technology.
"The field is ever-changing," he said. "There are constant certifications, and you're always in school."
Woods fills an important Cisco-certification role that allows CSI to sell Voice-Over-the-Internet Protocol technology, according to Mike Stephens, CSI manager of datacomm support. "A lot of what he does is on-the-job training with technicians that have been here longer than Aaron."
Donald "Deke" Reynolds, 26, of Heath was among the first CSI hirees from UK's computer science-engineering field. He met Perrin at a career fair in Lexington and came to work after his 2005 graduation.
"There's been a lot of room for growth here," Reynolds said, adding that one of his 2008 highlights was attending the weakling Microsoft Technical Education Conference in Orlando, Fla., with Bill Gates as keynote speaker.
Continuing education and state-of-the-art technology are two key reasons why CSI's turnover rate is less than 3 percent, which Perrin described as low for the industry. Department managers oversee high-tech training, and the company pays for seminars and continued schooling.
The UK Center for Business and Economic Research attributes Kentucky's slow growth to a lack of skilled workers and innovative businesses, particularly in rural areas. Lawmakers should consider putting more money into relatively underfunded state training programs, according to center research.
Scheduled to open in 2010, WKCTC's Emerging Technology Center and adjacent Fred Paxton Engineering Wing are designed to meet the needs of today's technically advanced work force.
Deborah Pape, the college's president of economic development, said the center will afford substantially more room and training equipment for robotics, automated machining, computer modeling and other high-tech systems. Haas Automation, the largest machine tool builder in the western hemisphere, has provided two pieces of training equipment worth hundreds of thousands of dollars to teach the type of intricate machining used by companies such as Remington for rifle barrels.
WCKTC has one of the few state-certified programs in mechatronics, launched by Siemens in Europe. Instead of training someone to be an electrical or power-fluid or mechanical specialist, mechatronics focuses on whole-system maintenance, Pape said.
She said the center will help companies train workers to quickly implement technology as global competition grows keener
"Technology is changing at such a fast rate that by the time a student finishes in four years, half of everything he or she learns will be absolutely outdated," she said.
Joe Walker can be contacted at 575-8656.
A September Fairfax County (Va.) Economic Development Authority survey of about 1,000 workers showed that:
Even with the uncertain economy, 39 percent of all workers would consider changing jobs if better technology was available at another similar employer or organization; 37 percent would move if better training in technology was offered elsewhere.
52 percent of manufacturing workers would consider moving to somewhere with better technology. That compares with direct services, 43 percent; health, 39 percent; other sectors, 39 percent; and education, 22 percent.
About eight in 10 said access to technology is important to their work creativity and productivity, and that better technology gives their company a competitive edge.
43 percent of men were significantly more likely than women (31 percent) to suggest they would work for another employer that provided more in-depth training on the latest technology.
Younger workers were more likely emphasize technology than older workers.
65 percent of Hispanic workers said they would consider switching jobs for better access to technology; 63 percent said they would consider switching for more technology training.
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