Completing the circuit

with serious skill shortages at home, many high-tech firms in the US have
turned to talent imported from the developing markets. Liz Simpson looks at how
they have made this work

there’s one thing you can’t get away from in Silicon Valley it’s the phrase
"Now hiring!". Enticing techies to fill the scores of computer
programming and engineering vacancies constantly on offer here has prompted
employers to engage in some creative approaches in their bid to attract the
most talented people. It’s common to find pleas of "Come work for us"
advertised on the insulated sleeves around take-away coffee cups. Or to see
light aircraft trailing banners inviting IT personnel to call a company to
discuss the great opportunities on offer. But since there’s apparently not
enough homegrown IT talent currently in the US to meet the immediate demand of
high-tech companies, searches are also being conducted further afield. Indeed,
many organisations are taking advantage of the fact that there is a big, wide
world out there in which to fish.

Clinton administration facilitated the importing of global talent into the US
last year by passing legislation that significantly increased the number of
annual temporary visas (H-1Bs) available to foreign-born workers. That allowed
recruiters to fill those critical gaps in their workforce with the best and
brightest from emerging markets like South America, Pakistan, Russia and the
Philippines, although it’s anticipated the majority will come from India.
That’s because the Indian educational system places great emphasis – certainly
more than its Western counterparts – on gaining high-level qualifications in
the computer sciences and mathematics.

talented people into a very different culture is not without its challenges.
Indeed, as the emerging field of cultural psychology recognises, attitudes and
behaviours are always influenced by culture, and major misunderstandings
between people with very different expectations are common. However, with some
forethought and planning these can be mitigated.

engineer Naga Sridhar Kataru, from southern India, was recruited straight from
university to work for Lucent Technologies. His experience of working in a
completely different culture has been smooth, thanks mainly, he feels, to the
efforts made by his employers.

Kataru: "On my first day one of the HR personnel took me to the nearest
government office so I could get my social security card, which, among other
things, facilitates opening a bank account. It’s the practical issues that are
important – knowing how to find reasonably priced accommodation, understanding
how long the commute will take, buying a car – not just issues concerned with
the job. Coming from a country where things operate very differently puts you
at an immediate disadvantage compared with US recruits. But if you have help
dealing with lifestyle issues like arranging credit then you can focus better
on your work and perform more effectively for the company."

he particularly valued was the fact that Lucent hadn’t just identified the
issues that all new recruits confront, or simply ones that were unique to
foreign-born workers coming to the US. They were also sensitive to the fact
that, as a young man just out of university, he had unique personal

was matched with a mentor who was my friend and guide, who took me out to
dinner and made sure I knew what social life was available so I didn’t feel
lonely and isolated. That too had a positive impact on my ability to
work," says Kataru.

Sullivan, a marketing manager in the Internet business solutions division of
Japanese-owned high-tech company NEC Systems, came to the US from Taiwan 11
years ago and praises her company’s two-day cultural orientation workshops. She
says they are invaluable in facilitating communication between diverse cultures
because, unbidden, it’s difficult for someone to recognise their cultural

cultures tend to be less outspoken, more conservative. When I first came to the
US and someone praised me I’d reply, ‘I didn’t do it well enough’, because I’d
been brought up to be humble and not brag about myself. I realised the hard way
that Western management regards that negatively."

Sullivan: "Language is best understood in the context of culture,
something that requires experience and help. It’s invaluable in a workshop
situation to practise saying to foreign co-workers: ‘This is what I heard you
say – is that what you meant?’"

also feels that it’s important for managers to be sensitive to an individual’s
strengths and weaknesses and to allow them to focus on work which suits their
personality as well as skills, since individuals with English as a second
language may not feel comfortable dealing directly with customers.

company culture that supports values like open communication, respect for
diversity and good humour is the foundation for a workforce that operates
effectively together, irrespective of their backgrounds."

with lay-offs making the headlines daily and talk of a US recession, what could
happen to these foreign-born employees in the future?

the terms of the H-1B programme, if someone loses their employment they can
either transfer their visa to another company or the original employer must
provide for them to return to their country of origin," answers Janet
Briggs, senior vice president of HR at application service provider, Corio,
based in San Carlos, California.

we wouldn’t want to get a reputation as a company which considers its people –
including its H-1B people – as being disposable. We ask for a high level of
commitment from our H-1B employees and show them the same level of commitment
by immediately beginning work on their green card applications, if they so

colleague Bill Greenhalgh, director of HR and staffing, points out that the
concept of the global village is here to stay. "It’s time to wake up and
smell the coffee. We are a global economy. With the networking available today,
employees can be in India, Australia or anywhere else for that matter and still
produce for an organisation."

history: NEC Systems


Baker, director of HR and general administration at NEC Systems in San Jose,
uses the term "offshore developers" to describe a new trend that involves
hiring foreign workers but leaving them in their own countries. Some call them
"virtual workers", others "cross-border collaborators".

and more Internet companies are looking at this philosophy from the standpoint
of it being more cost-effective," explains Baker. "After all, the
cost of the H-1B visa process in the US, which the company pays, is around
$850-1,000 per employee. There may also be considerable travel expenses. For
example, the average airline ticket from India to California costs around

it works

shifting away from immigrating new workers into the US and using offshore
recruits instead, NEC avoids the time delays around processing their visa and
subsequent green card. "Currently it’s taking the Immigration & Naturalization
Service eight to ten weeks to process visas," says Baker.

reduce the time and high costs of bringing people in, NEC has developed
relations with recruitment consultants in emerging markets to find the talent they
need. For example, recently it has instigated consulting contracts with a
number of Russian multimedia consultants who have been hired to develop an
Internet advertising campaign for the company. According to Baker, managing
these offshore technical workers is not a particularly challenging or risky
process. "As consultants, they are paid according to their productivity.
Yes, it does involve a bit of development time, sending people to Moscow to
ensure they understand the level of quality and time sequencing we require. But
the time difference actually works to our advantage since something is always
happening on the project around the clock."


can increasingly see us hiring foreign workers and leaving them in their home
countries, as that way we can benefit from the skills and talent of, say, four
or five multimedia producers in Moscow for the price of bringing one person
over to work in the US," says Baker. "It’s a win-win situation. The
rate we offer moves them up two economic levels within their own culture and we
have a stable asset since national companies in Russia aren’t able to compete
on pay."

list for hiring overseas workers

Consider using a recruiting agency that specialises in finding overseas talent,
particularly if you need to fill a vacancy quickly. Their outsourcing skills
should include help with ensuring resumes are accurate, following up on
references and advising or assisting with relocation issues.

Ensure you have an attractive relocation package that not only covers help with
accommodation but also addresses other lifestyle needs. The more time, energy
and stress that’s involved in handling such issues the less happy and
productive the new employee will be.

Offering a short cultural orientation course for all employees has helped many
companies avoid misunderstandings between co-workers, particularly with regard
to differing work attitudes and communication styles.

Assign a mentor or "buddy" to each new overseas hire so they feel
welcome, can get to know the company and neighbourhood quicker and have someone
to chat to about personal and professional issues.

Remember that the culture and values of your organisation, particularly around
openness, respect for diversity and opportunities for team and company-wide
social activities, will facilitate quicker and easier integration of overseas
hires into the workplace.

Constantly update and improve the help and care you offer to new recruits from
other cultures by asking what they need and requesting feedback on what has or
has not assisted them in embracing a new company and new country.

Consider the less expensive option of cross-border collaboration – leaving
individuals with the skills you need in their own countries to work

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