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College Recruiting and Training Program Powers Partner Growth

While college students may be prepared for the technical aspects of consultancy, many partners hesitate to recruit employees directly out of school. Concerns about graduates' lack of business savvy and practical experience keep many partners from tapping the college market.

But to expand and diversify the workforce, both at the partner and channel levels, it's critical to bring in fresh talent, not just poach experienced consultants. One partner is supporting impressive growth through a repeatable college recruiting and training program that introduces eight to 10 young people to the consulting world each year.

Over the six years that Amber Rush has been visiting college campuses to recruit for her employer, HMB, a custom dev and consulting partner based in Columbus, Ohio, the company has grown from about 70 employees to more than 230 today. Each year, eight to 10 of those employees join the team from local colleges and prepare for the real world through HMB's Grad Academy program.

"The recruiting process for the Grad Academy, which is the program we hire for out of college, is really pretty simple," said Rush. "I visit college campuses this time of year, initially starting out in the fall. The main ones we hit up are all really in Ohio since all of our work is here in Columbus. We try to stay local since the consultants will be here in Columbus."

Accompanied by HMB consultants who have been through the process themselves, Rush attends career fairs at the colleges. "All of the different companies just set up their booths in the space and then the students walk around and chat with everyone," said Rush. "For the students that I had a good connection with and really liked and could see doing well here, I set up next-day interviews."

Those students who make it past the initial round are invited to HMB for technical interviews, meeting with several HMB consultants. A standard aptitude test is administered and then the decision to make an offer.

Building the diversity of the HMB team is always a goal of the recruiting efforts, and Rush depends on current employees to connect with college students. "Whenever we have women that have graduated from the school we are visiting, I try to take them," said Rush. "I think that definitely helps to draw in the other women."

Additional outreach to students includes working with organizations like Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) college chapters. "Outside of the career fairs, we do presentations and information nights with different groups," said Rush. "We recently did an information night with the [Ohio State University] ACMW, which is the women's chapter of their ACM club. We took a few different consultants and they each did some mini-level tech talks for the group. I think targeting specific groups, especially like the women's chapter of a specific sort of user group, is helpful."

Social media is an important component of the HMB recruiting effort. "College students love social media and they're plugged in to all of the different avenues. So, we're constantly Tweeting and posting to Facebook," said Rush. "We make sure when we're posting that we're using that appropriate hashtags, as well, so it comes up really easily for students. I definitely think that helps us be more visible to the students since they are so plugged in to all of the different social media avenues."

About 40 students will make it to HMB's technical interviews each year, with 15 to 18 offers typically made. About half of the students will accept offers to hit the eight-to-10 target mark for college hires each year. Making some progress with diversity, three of the eight students to go through the Grad Academy in 2016 were women.

HMB's Grad Academy is a three-week intensive training program that prepares students for work in the real world. "It's their first three weeks here at HMB, all taught by our senior consultants. Experts at what they do, living and breathing this every day," explained Rush. "It's a mix of technology and soft skills for the world of consulting to help them feel prepared to go to the client sites and start working on projects. Really a great transition from college to career to help them feel prepared, rather than just kind of throwing them to the wolves on a client site, to really help them focus."

The training is a selling point for recruitment efforts. "They're coming in with eight to 10 other folks at the same time, so they're all on the same playing field. It's nice for them to have that camaraderie of a whole group of grads coming out of school," said Rush. "Students often say, 'I think I learned more in that three weeks of training than I did in four years of school.'"

HMB's program demonstrates that college recruiting isn't only for the big consulting firms, and can deliver huge returns to every size organization. To build diversity in the channel, partners need to look to the next generation of tech employees. With a commitment to training of college recruits, partners can expand their workforce and ensure a strong future of the business with a young, balanced workforce.

How is your organization taking a creative approach to recruiting? Send me a note and let's share the knowledge.

Posted by Barb Levisay on September 20, 2017 at 11:09 AM0 comments

Women in Technology Group Promotes Male Perspective on Diversity

Panel discussions held to address the challenges of women and technology can be pretty predictable. Breaking the mold, one chapter of Women in Technology (WIT) is taking a creative approach to drive conversations that are as inclusive as the partner channel they envision. And as a side benefit, participants are likely to gain as much as they give.

For the past four years, the WIT special interest group of the Chicago chapter of the International Association of Microsoft Channel Partners (IAMCP) has held a panel presentation, "The Male Perspective -- Women, IT and Leadership." The brain child of Sharan Hildebrand, vice president of sales at Capax Global LLC, the annual event takes a unique approach to the women-in-tech topic.

"It's a provocative title. It does sometimes spark, I wouldn't go as far as to say controversy, but people will roll their eyes and say, 'Really? Women in IT and you have like an all-male panel,'" said Hildebrand, who also serves as IAMCP's U.S. central region WIT chair. "I stay true to it and I think taking a provocative approach does pique people's interest. There's nothing garden variety about it."

The intention of the panel is to give men in IT the opportunity to share their experiences of working with, working for and leading teams that include women. Hildebrand identifies the three to five participants for each panel through the IAMCP network.

"They are hand-picked typically because we know that they have strong agendas or they're strong supporters of women in leadership and entrepreneurship," said Hildebrand. "So, it's typically a mix. We always have one or two people from Microsoft plus a number of male executives in the IT industry."

To avoid the standard panel discussion format where participants take turns answering the same question, Hildebrand interviews the panelists ahead of time to find the deeper stories that will deliver more impact.

"Some people talk about women that they work for, you know, lessons learned," explained Hildebrand. "Some interviewees have gone back to childhood and talked about how diversity inclusion and female influences have impacted them at a very early age. Some start at college, some start at their first career. I'll ask a bunch of open-ended questions, but I'm looking for something just meaty and delicious that we can turn into a lesson, or maybe even an 'a ha' moment for the audience."

One such story is documented in the thoughtful post, "'Women in Technology' Panel: I Learned More Than I Contributed," by John Simpson, CEO of One North Interactive, who shared his experience participating on one of the WIT panels. In preparation for the panel, Simpson met with a group of women from his company for an open conversation about their challenges and opportunities. As he details in the blog post, he learned much and was "absolutely floored" by some of the comments from the women.     

Awareness is only one of the outcomes the events are aimed to address. "There are takeaways we want people to have like, 'OK, well that's an interesting idea. Let me try that at my workplace. Or maybe it's a program that I need to be more aware of and let me suggest this to HR. Or maybe I just need to be more mindful,'" said Hildebrand. "If one person even has the idea and shares that idea with somebody else, it's a win in my opinion."

The "The Male Perspective -- Women, IT and Leadership" event has grown over the past four years with over 60 people attending the last session. The percentage of men in the audience has also grown from about 10 to 30 percent, reflecting the value of inclusive dialogue. Promoted through IAMCP to Chicago's greater tech community, the panel has become the premier annual event for the Chicago WIT chapter.

The success of the male perspective panel is likely to launch similar events in the fast-growing network of IAMCP WIT chapters around the globe. After successfully hitting their goal of 50 WIT chapters before July's Microsoft Inspire conference, an additional 16 chapters are in the process of forming.   

While there is no easy solution to the diversity challenges we face in the Microsoft partner community, putting all our heads together to solve those challenges together is the only way out. Programs that promote conversations from all perspectives will help point us in the right direction.

How are you promoting diversity in your business or community? Send me a note and let's share the knowledge.

Posted by Barb Levisay on August 31, 2017 at 8:26 AM0 comments

Channel Partnership Tackles Skills Gap with STEM Scholarship Fund

Finding and hiring skilled workers is a growth-inhibiting challenge for Microsoft partners -- and it's likely to get worse before it gets better. Based on U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data, Code.org estimates that by 2020, there will be 1 million more computing jobs than applicants who can fill them.

In an effort to help Microsoft partners bridge that daunting gap, the U.S. arm of the International Association of Microsoft Channel Partners (IAMCP-US) has joined forces with Voices for Innovation (VFI) to launch a STEM scholarship fund. The IAMCP Rudy Rodriguez STEM Scholarship will award $2,500 scholarships to IAMCP-US members and their families in support of STEM-related, post-secondary school expenses.

"The original idea grew from work IAMCP-US is doing in conjunction with VFI, specifically around STEM education," said Randy Steinle, IAMCP-US president. "That work has been twofold. One is to support young people attending the many high schools in the country that still don't offer computer science classes. Secondly, we were looking at the issues around workforce training. Looking at re-educating the workforce to help fill some of the gaps."

The scholarship was named to honor IAMCP-US President Emeritus Rudy Rodriguez. "Rudy has always been involved in education and is very passionate about people having access," said Steinle. "It was a natural thing to marry this initiative that we're all pretty passionate about with honoring a person we're all pretty passionate about, and doing some good for the community."

IAMCP has engaged Scholarship America to administer the scholarship program to provide professional and objective management of the funds. Through professional administration, partner organizations will be able to take full advantage of opportunities like corporate matching. And to ensure scholarships are awarded objectively, Scholarship America will determine eligibility and select candidates based on the criteria set by the IAMCP-US scholarship committee.

The scholarship program was announced at this year's Microsoft Inspire conference in Washington, D.C., and target goals have already exceeded expectations.

"Our goal was to raise $7,500 to get this started and we have over $10,000," said Steinle. "In addition, we have significant commitments that will come in once the final paperwork is completed with Scholarship America to open the fund to the public. It's really been exciting."

"VFI has really gotten behind this effort because of the work that they're doing around STEM education, to provide access at all different levels," added Steinle. "From retraining veterans and access to computer science education in high schools, there's a lot of areas where VFI is making an impact."

VFI is a Microsoft-supported community of technology professionals and everyday Americans who help advance technology, IT job growth and businesses of all sizes. According to its Web site, the organization is 90,000 supporters strong and focused on four primary issues: computer science education, data privacy, TV white space and intellectual property. 

The organization provides educational resources, as well as guidance on active advocacy, like tools to help people compose e-mails to government representatives.

The IAMCP Rudy Rodriguez STEM Scholarship is a valuable benefit of membership in the organization and an important step in the right direction for the Microsoft partner channel. More initiatives like the scholarship are sorely needed to fill the growing skills gap that will have an increasing impact on the channel.

Is your organization taking creative steps to attract and train employees? Tell me about it and let's share the knowledge.


Posted by Barb Levisay on August 10, 2017 at 3:27 PM0 comments