Grooming talent in the 'next generation'

April 1, 2002


The next-generation technologies are always right around the corner-and so are the employees who will inspire their development. When you think of grooming talent, very often thoughts go to those already on the payroll. It is not always the case, particularly in light of the geographic industry "poles" that attract the young aspiring graduates to follow the high-end opportunities-elsewhere. Grooming talent and personnel development can and does very often start in the schools, universities, colleges, and even high schools.

Not all telecommunications companies are fortunate enough to be surrounded by great institutions of learning that focus on technical education and continually insert new talent into the local area. Although some great schools are spread over the different "poles" of the industry, Texas, San Jose, CA, Paris, Rochester, NY, Ottawa, and Quebec, the actual geographic proximity shouldn't be a requirement to a fruitful "talent-grooming partnership." Geographic proximity should certainly be taken advantage of where and whenever possible.

The relationship that we cultivate at the different levels of education can guarantee an ebb and flow of employees, both groomed and talented. Different types of partnerships can be developed, such as bursaries offered to encourage a career choice or support undergraduate research.

Companies should pride themselves on being market-driven-nothing is created in a vacuum. In today's marketplaces, a good product development process ensures that research and development projects are aligned with customer needs. That makes the well-groomed technician as important as the researcher when it comes to product development and rapid time-to-market. To meet those needs, groomed talent is absolutely essential-talent that has gone through the awakening of the education and training offered at every level of education and not held back until potential candidates have attained employee status. In these precarious economic times, it remains essential to continue grooming talent to face the challenges of the future.

It is an investment that will pay off, like offering summer camps for those high school intellos who are looking for the road to follow or college-supported experimental labs to introduce that undiscovered talent that will see beyond the OC-798 (40-Gbit/sec) transmission testing. University scholarships that encourage the aspiring engineer to choose the physics of light over cement are as essential to a local company as an international multinational.

Although the job market is-or at least was until recently-rampant with career opportunities for everything from information technology to marketing experts, the combination of photonics, marketing, and communications can be a high-priced ticket to ride anywhere in the world, particularly when you speak more than one language. It takes a particular breed of company to face the challenge of warding off headhunters. Understanding that grooming talent starts early can create a level of loyalty able to withstand those bigger, better offers in other photonic bastions around the world.

Taking into consideration that telecom carriers are lowering their capital expenditures due to a more competitive landscape, it remains a priority to develop good working relationships with the educational institutions in the vicinity of your company. That will ensure the next-generation talent is as enthusiastic as the current one and more informed about the requirements or direction in which the technology and therefore the market is heading.

Although there always will be a debate about industry intervention into the educational arena, it can be can justifiably argued that schools exist to groom talent for any particular industry. After all, the "poles" of the optical world are at the same time a product of and provider in their respective environments. Therefore, it is essential that educational systems-the lower school to the white towers of great thinking-remain attached to the industries they are feeding. It is essential that talent grooming includes an occasional reality check to validate if the "fiber is connected."

One very important factor and industry obligation in grooming talent is keeping the potential and ongoing educational partners up to date with the technology and market developments. For example, the reality that carriers will not necessarily be deploying new optical networks but will be upgrading existing networks by adding DWDM channels, lighting dark fibers, and increasing data transmission rates, will affect the type of products being developed. It will bring to the development of technology a sense of economy-more for less instead of bigger and faster.

As the traditional boundaries defining the physical, optical, and protocol layers of an optical network are becoming intertwined due to the complexity of DWDM networks, companies must fastidiously educate talent-grooming partners. Future employees need to know what the game is before they start to play. Simply remembering the meaning of all the acronyms in the business is in itself a huge advantage in grooming.

The partnerships we create and sustain now will guarantee our future edge in the grooming of talent. In addition, the cost of training and education is a shared, economically viable, and integral part of the social network of each optics and photonics geographic pole.

Mario Larose is vice president of marketing at EXFO (Quebec). He can be reached via the company's Website,

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