News Column

Hispanics with the Right Training will Find Opportunities in the IT Sector

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By Vivienne Heines

March 2001 - If you’re looking for a job, the outlook is excellent –- provided your expertise is in the high-tech industry, you have a strong math background, or you have a master’s degree in business administration.

Overall, the hottest job field currently is information technology. Analysts say that demand for jobs in IT continues to outpace supply, so many firms turn to foreigners to fill professional slots. Other hot job areas include engineering and marketing, with minority candidates emerging as strong candidates, according to industry leaders.

“The most in-demand general category is information technology specialists,” concurs Manville Smith, CEO of Exelenx.com, a career-management and career-consulting firm based in Boca Raton, Florida. “They are in demand throughout Latin America as well as in the United States. In fact, in the United States, we have a deficit of about 400,000 people in the information technology sector.”

The United States now imports thousands of information technology specialists on temporary visas. Not all of them have four-year degrees, either; some opt for technical degrees from two-year colleges. Others who already have degrees get certified online through programs offered by companies such as Microsoft. Such certification typically costs about $3,000, according to Mr. Smith.

“There are online assessment tests to see if people have the capabilities, skills, and interests to do something in that field,” he says. “If they don’t have the foundation and natural inclination toward mathematics, then they’re kind of wasting their time. Mathematics is absolutely key to this field – the ability to handle mathematical concepts and abstract thinking and problems. It’s a basic building block.”

While interest and aptitude are musts, it’s not always necessary to have prior experience in information technology. “Someone could conceivably tap into this if they had sufficient basic computer knowledge,” he says.

Entry-level pay for such positions in the United States ranges from $15 to $25 per hour, with more sophisticated programmers receiving $100 to $150 per hour.

“There is unlimited demand for these jobs, which is just amazing,” says Mr. Smith, who believes the U.S. education system has not kept up with demand for such jobs.

“We in the States haven’t paid enough attention to teaching basic mathematics,” he says. “Many of those who are coming here are from India, Australia, South Africa, New Zealand, Singapore, Hong Kong – all former British-empire countries where the people speak English and have the necessary education in math.”

Minority candidates with the necessary aptitude and training are particularly suited for the new, volatile economy, according to Mr. Smith.

“If you look at this from the Latino angle, I think the potential for increased job opportunities is greater than for the rest of the population. We are willing to do whatever it takes to get ahead, and there are a whole lot of lower-end jobs available,” he says.

On the other hand, mid-level analyst positions are among the worst jobs to have now because many have been rendered obsolete by new computer capabilities in data analysis and interpretation, Mr. Smith continues.

“If you look at how we were organized, say, 10 years ago, there was a whole mid-range management level of people whose job it was to analyze and interpret information for upper management,” he says. “That has essentially been wiped out with the ability of computers to analyze information.”

The high-tech industry is producing other jobs in an array of areas.

“Technology would include all of the companies that manufacture hardware and software. Then you have all the companies that provide hardware and software for communications companies, particularly broadband and wireless,” says Rodrigo Ocampo, managing director for Latin America at A.T. Kearney Inc., an international recruiting firm. “And then there are the companies that provide consulting services to the technology arena, which are in tremendous demand as well.”

Particularly desirable are consultants for the so-called dot corps – traditional brick-and-mortar companies that realize the Internet can be used to decrease costs, increase sales, and network effectively with clients – according to Mr. Ocampo.

In-demand job fields also include finance and financial services.
“Finance always has a certain level of demand for talented people, because it is the most basic of all businesses,” he says. “There’s always a need for people who make decisions on how to deploy capital – so those who do that well are in demand.”
Experience often is the key to getting hired, Mr. Ocampo says.
“What’s needed are people who can bridge the gap with regard to understanding the new technology, who also have experience where that technology is going to be deployed,” he explains.

It’s difficult to predict whether the information-technology field will eventually become oversaturated with job candidates.

“What we can draw from the previous technology waves is that new technological possibilities are being developed all the time,” says Mr. Ocampo. Examples of new technology are high bandwidth, short-distance connections for communication between wireless devices and technology that marries cellular communication with global-positioning systems.

Like Mr. Smith, Mr. Ocampo believes that Hispanics are particularly well positioned to take advantage of the current job market.

“To have an understanding of technology, you need an understanding of engineering,” he says. “And Latin American countries historically are very good at producing engineers. Chile and Brazil are famous for engineering.

“I don’t know where the United States lost its way in education,” he continues. “But its failings are significantly pronounced in math – which is the underpinning of engineering.”

He also feels that Hispanics – especially in Latin America – are accustomed to change, and versatility is a trait that serves them well in the fast-changing high-tech job world.

“You have to be able to adapt to changing scenarios, because this technology is changing so fast,” Mr. Ocampo notes. “People in Latin America have had to deal with tremendous upheaval at the macro level – political and financial upheaval. These people are very adaptable, which is a characteristic that the new economy demands.”

Advanced degrees can put minority job candidates in particularly desirable positions. Those with master’s degrees in business administration are in great demand now, according to the National Society of Hispanic MBAs (NSHMBA).

NSHMBA, a nonprofit organization dedicated to Hispanic leadership through graduate management education and professional development, recently conducted surveys of the nation’s top companies in the consulting, technology, and consumer goods industries. The results confirm that mid-career professionals can increase their marketability by obtaining an MBA, especially if they are considering a new line of work. Survey respondents preferred MBA candidates with previous work experience, good people skills, and leadership or entrepreneurial skills. The most marketable candidates are those educated at traditional universities who have specialized in such areas as finance, marketing, supply-chain management, or logistics.

“Given the economy, students are in the driver’s seat,” says John Honaman, executive director of the Dallas-based organization. “Know what you love and find a place that has a culture where you can learn, grow, and enjoy your work,” he advises. “If [a company’s] programs don’t leverage your background or education, pushing your way in may become self-limiting. Certain companies are considered ‘hot,’ but candidates should really be looking for fit,” he says.

To attract minority candidates, many corporations are stepping up recruitment, and partnering with student associations, at universities with high minority populations, according to the survey. Some establish relationships with professors capable of identifying top students, who are then invited to meet recruiters.

Other companies use existing employee resources to help identify minority job candidates, or they resort to such benefits as signing bonuses to attract top candidates, according to the survey. Marketing MBAs are particularly in demand as more students turn to consulting and working for dot-com companies.

The survey provided some insight into what companies expect from their minority employees as well.

“We need a strong understanding of the culture they represent. It is not good enough just to be ‘of color.’ They need to understand the marketplace and be able to articulate strategies to influence our consumers in those markets,” said one respondent.

Another respondent recommended that would-be job seekers be willing to relocate, and suggested that they review and consider the total compensation package as opposed to just salary. “Think about what your ideal company looks like,” the respondent advised. “Find a company that meets your needs – i.e., structured vs. flexible, large vs. small, industry health vs. consumer products, business casual vs. business attire, work-life balance. Research the company to ensure they can provide what you need and want out of a career.”

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