Reading the tea leaves in the recruitment economy

The latest MSU CERI report will remain the subject of my blogs as I continue to digest and understand it. This report reviews the recruiting behaviors in 2011 by 3,700-odd employers. Its authors attempt to model the recruiting behaviors of the US economy by including a ratio of firms of appropriate size, reflecting the diversity of companies in the broader US economy.

One fact uncovered by its authors is the two leading majors for recruitment. Computer science and business majors are leading the pack in 2011. Those who can manage a business process and those who can automate them are ahead of the pack, while other majors exhibit slow but certain growth over 2009’s decline. Overall, most majors show some improvement over the last year, where some estimates tracked a 25% decline in university hiring. We are positioned to experience an increase, year-over-year, but given the leadership of business people and programmers, I see a particular character to the nature of desirable recruits.

Companies emphasizing the hire of management, finance, marketing and accounting graduates are emphasizing corporate office functions. For large firms flush with cash, capable of making investments, their expanding employee base will be tasked with managing operations. That’s for the leading group of recruits, too, whose recruitment increases 22% in 2011.

The very healthy increase in corporate skill-hiring may exhibit the general plan to manage the vast increase in productivity over the past two years. The economic downturn has caused firms to winnow its employee base down to a base minimum, and though some green shoots cause sales to increase (take cars, for instance), the nature of each firms’ base of operations has shifted toward high-productivity models.

The increase in business-student recruitment likely reflects this shift toward managerial processes on-shored and enhanced here in the USA. This is an important consideration for students of most majors. It would behoove students in upcoming classes to bulk up on business courses no matter what their occupational curricula. For example, health services majors could study accounting, to apply for hybrid care and management-track positions. Psychology majors could bulk up on finance and investment courses to potentially branch out into roles where mentality-of-market analysis is valued. Also, language and cultural-studies majors may find meaning in their majors by cross-pollinating their transcript with courses in international business and finance.

This recruiting trend would cause my graduate school colleagues in MBA programs to win an important tavern argument, stating that the future of the USA is likely entitled “MBA Nation.” In this scenario, management functions for a host of globally-sourced operations are created, as manufacturing comfortably resides in former Eastern-bloc countries, Latin America, Asia and elsewhere. Remember, companies hire into university populations to fulfill long-term operations goals, and feed 10-year plans.

And how about those programmers? Computer science and information systems grads are trailing business graduates in recruitability. However, being #2 is never a bad place to be. The big-picture asked by this blog is, what does it mean when programmers and business-people lead the 2011 recruitment story?

Combining programmers and financial analysts, marketing people, and/or management people no-doubt results in highly effective types of cross-functional teams. Teams like these are needed to launch initiatives that combine strategy with information technology. Given my software engineering background, my ears to the ground hear several incredible trends on the horizon. One is analytics, which mine data from deep process-repositories and visualize and graph them. Business Intelligence is pervading most every-day operations. Another trend is visualization, which attempts to capture data feeds and transform them pictorially — giving decision makers a picture of abstract phenomena. Yet another is the upcoming trend toward gamification, where visualization and analytics are combined to give process-owners an even deeper level of control of a complex process. Imagine running a hedge fund from a helicopter, where high-risk trades are visualized as mountain ranges, and you can actively monitor those blowing up into volcanoes from above. Data is actionable so far as it’s visible, and programmers have the motivation to make it so.

Hence, when we combine these crafty, scrappy majors, we get high-productivity teams. I think the killer-app student would want a piece of both of these majors, plus an in-depth understanding of yet a third discipline, like Japanese economics, or Russian social politics. Combining expertise is not just for the overachievers; it should be the every day work of students desiring a foothold in this long-term challenging landscape, where automation, offshoring and global sourcing are quotidian.

About stefan bund

Founder of Next Acropolis. MS in Information Systems and Technology, Claremont Graduate University... Background in software engineering and teaching.
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