Au Revoir, Entrepreneurs

March 31, 2014

By: Liz Alderman
Via: The New York Times

Guillaume Santacruz, an aspiring French entrepreneur, brushed the rain from his black sweater and skinny jeans and headed down to a cavernous basement inside Campus London, a seven-story hive run by Google in the city’s East End.

It was late on a September morning, and the space was crowded with people hunched over laptops at wooden cafe tables or sprawled on low blue couches, working on plans to create the next Facebook or LinkedIn. The hiss of a milk steamer broke through the low buzz of conversation as a man in a red flannel shirt brewed cappuccino at a food bar.

A year earlier, Mr. Santacruz, who has two degrees in finance, was living in Paris near the Place de la Madeleine, working in a boutique finance firm. He had taken that job after his attempt to start a business in Marseille foundered under a pile of government regulations and a seemingly endless parade of taxes. The episode left him wary of starting any new projects in France. Yet he still hungered to be his own boss.

He decided that he would try again. Just not in his own country.

“A lot of people are like, ‘Why would you ever leave France?’ ” Mr. Santacruz said. “I’ll tell you. France has a lot of problems. There’s a feeling of gloom that seems to be growing deeper. The economy is not going well, and if you want to get ahead or run your own business, the environment is not good.”

In the Campus London basement, Mr. Santacruz, who is 29, squeezed into one of the few remaining seats. Within hours, he was to meet with an entrepreneur he identified only as Knut, to discuss an investment in the company that Mr. Santacruz was trying to build. He called it Zipcube, and was pitching it as a sort of Airbnb for renting office space online.

From 80 to 90 percent of all start-ups fail, “but that’s O.K.,” said Eze Vidra, the head of Google for Entrepreneurs Europe and of Campus London, a free work space in the city’s booming technology hub. In Britain and the United States, “it’s not considered bad if you have failed,” Mr. Vidra said. “You learn from failure in order to maximize success.”

That is the kind of thinking that drew Mr. Santacruz to London. “Things are different in France,” he said. “There is a fear of failure. If you fail, it’s like the ultimate shame. In London, there’s this can-do attitude, and a sense that anything’s possible. If you make an error, you can get up again.”

Mr. Santacruz had a hard time explaining to his parents his decision to leave France. “They think I’m crazy, maybe sick, taking all those risks,” he said. “But I don’t want to wait until I’m 60 to live my life.”

France has been losing talented citizens to other countries for decades, but the current exodus of entrepreneurs and young people is happening at a moment when France can ill afford it. The nation has had low-to-stagnant economic growth for the last five years and a generally climbing unemployment rate — now about 11 percent — and analysts warn that it risks sliding into economic sclerosis.

Some wealthy businesspeople have also been packing their bags. While entrepreneurs fret about the difficulties of getting a business off the ground, those who have succeeded in doing so say that society stigmatizes financial success. The election of President François Hollande, a member of the Socialist Party who once declared, “I don’t like the rich,” did little to contradict that impression.

After denying that there was a problem, Mr. Hollande is suddenly shifting gears. Since the beginning of the year, he has taken to the podium under the gilded eaves of the Élysée Palace several times with significant proposals to make France more alluring for entrepreneurs and business, while seeking to preserve the nation’s model of social protection.

His deputy finance minister for business innovation, Fleur Pellerin, a dynamic 40-year-old credited with schooling Mr. Hollande on the importance of the digital economy, has been busy pushing initiatives to turn Paris into a “tech capital” to rival the world’s most active start-up hubs.

Those initiatives, however, have not yet closed the spigot on the flow of French citizens to other countries. Hand-wringing articles in French newspapers — including a three-page spread in Le Monde, have examined the implications of “les exilés.” This month, the Chamber of Commerce and Industry of Paris, which represents 800,000 businesses, published a report saying that French executives were more worried than ever that “unemployment and moroseness are pushing young people to leave” the country, bleeding France of energetic workers. As the Pew Research Center put it last year, “no European country is becoming more dispirited and disillusioned faster than France.”

Next month, the National Assembly will convene a panel to examine the issue

Today, around 1.6 million of France’s 63 million citizens live outside the country. That is not a huge share, but it is up 60 percent from 2000, according to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Thousands are heading to Hong Kong, Mexico City, New York, Shanghai and other cities. About 50,000 French nationals live in Silicon Valley alone.

But for the most part, they have fled across the English Channel, just a two-hour Eurostar ride from Paris. Around 350,000 French nationals are now rooted in Britain, about the same population as Nice, France’s fifth-largest city. So many French citizens are in London that locals have taken to calling it “Paris on the Thames.”

In the past, most of these people would have gone back to France after some adventure and experience. That may still be true of some in the French diaspora, but nearly 40 percent of French people abroad now say they plan to stay there for at least 10 years, according to the report by the Chamber of Commerce and Industry. Many are quietly saying that they may not return.

Taxes, Frustration, More Taxes

Mr. Santacruz grew up in his parents’ small, tidy home in a suburb of Aix-en-Provence in the south of France. During one of his summer breaks from college in Bordeaux, he visited a cousin who had become rich working in finance and lived in a sprawling residence in the Luberon Valley. When Mr. Santacruz drove up to the entrance, electronic gates opened to a vast garden.

“It was crazy,” he said. “I drove five minutes just to reach the house. That’s when I thought, ‘I want to make it like him.’ ”

“Making it” is almost never easy, but Mr. Santacruz found the French bureaucracy to be an unbridgeable moat around his ambitions. Having received his master’s in finance at the University of Nottingham in England, he returned to France to work with a friend’s father to open dental clinics in Marseille. “But the French administration turned it into a herculean effort,” he said.

A one-month wait for a license turned into three months, then six. They tried simplifying the corporate structure but were stymied by regulatory hurdles. Hiring was delayed, partly because of social taxes that companies pay on salaries. In France, the share of nonwage costs for employers to fund unemployment benefits, education, health care and pensions is more than 33 percent. In Britain, it is around 20 percent.

“Every week, more tax letters would come,” Mr. Santacruz recalled.

The government has since simplified procedures and reduced the social costs for start-ups. But those changes came too late for Mr. Santacruz, whose venture folded before it could get off the ground.

His parents were relieved when he took a job in Paris at the boutique firm NFinance. But he knew that it was a way station. He quickly turned to drawing up blueprints for a new venture.

“I asked myself, ‘Where will I have the bigger opportunity in Europe?’ ” he said. “London was the obvious choice. It’s more dynamic and international, business funding is easier to get, and it’s a better base if you want to expand.”

Diane Segalen, an executive recruiter for many of France’s biggest companies who recently moved most of her practice, Segalen & Associés, to London from Paris, says the competitiveness gap is easy to see just by reading the newspapers. “In Britain, you read about all the deals going on here,” Ms. Segalen said. “In the French papers, you read about taxes, more taxes, economic problems and the state’s involvement in everything.”

French officials have sought to play down such stories. Their takeaway is that migration — which has grown 4 percent a year since 2000 — is hardly new, so the outflow is nothing to lose sleep over. Bernard Emié, France’s ambassador to Britain, even argued that it was something to celebrate.

“The French are expatriating themselves more and more, but this is encouraging,” Mr. Emié told me. “We are not worried about it. They get experience, create wealth, and then they will bring that back to France.”

Mr. Hollande’s government is now trying to re-brand itself as business-friendly, especially for start-ups. Ms. Pellerin recently cut the ribbon on a large-scale technology incubator in Paris. She unveiled initiatives to free up venture capital and encourage digital entrepreneurship, including a “second chance” program intended to remove the cultural stigma attached to failure.

Defeat is seen as so ignominious that France’s central bank alerts lenders to entrepreneurs who have filed for bankruptcy, effectively preventing them from obtaining money for new projects — a practice that Ms. Pellerin would halt.

A pledge that Mr. Hollande made in January included a “responsibility pact” — a promise to relieve businesses of some of the burden to finance France’s welfare state. In February, he announced additional measures to lure investors back to France, unveiling plans to stabilize corporate tax rules, simplify customs procedures for imports and exports and introduce a tax break for foreign start-ups.

These changes were welcomed by business, but the more than 20 French expatriates I interviewed said their country was marked by a deeper antipathy toward the wealthy than could be addressed with a few new policies.

“Generally, if you are self-made man and earn money, you are looked at with suspicion,” said Erick Rinner, a French executive at Milestone Capital Partners, a British-French private equity firm, who has lived in London for 20 years.

Mr. Hollande’s election, and especially his proposal — since ruled unconstitutional — to impose a 75 percent tax on the portion of income above one million euros (about $1.4 million) a year, have only reinforced that perception.

“It is a French cultural characteristic that goes back to almost the revolution and Robespierre, where there’s a deep-rooted feeling that you don’t show that you make money,” Ms. Segalen, the recruiter, said. “There is this sense that ‘liberté, égalité, fraternité’ means that what’s yours should be mine. It’s more like, if someone has something I can’t have, I’d rather deprive this person from having it than trying to work hard to get it myself. That’s a very French state of mind. But it’s a race to the bottom.”

Sharing Space, Waiting Tables

Mr. Santacruz’s efforts to get Zipcube off the ground were full of fits and starts. While London had opportunities, living there was tougher than he had imagined. His apartment in Paris had been spacious, with tasteful modern furniture and French windows overlooking the gold statues atop the Paris Opera. After work, he would go to places like the Hôtel Costes or Le Forum, a bar on the Right Bank, to talk and to sip cocktails.

In London, he had none of that. Without a steady income, he was renting a room in a leaky group house with three roommates. He had also taken a night job as a waiter at Momo, a Moroccan restaurant near Oxford Circus, earning 6.50 pounds (about $10.80) an hour to make ends meet. He would come to Campus London every day to work on Zipcube, but by 4:30 he had to leave to be on time for his shift at Momo, which ended at 2 a.m.

Embarrassed, he hid the restaurant job from his family for two months.

“Sometimes I do ask myself if I’m making the right choice,” he acknowledged. “But if you don’t take risks, there will be no reward.”

Another French entrepreneur I met in the Campus London basement, Emilie Bellet, 30, had a more inspiring story. In less than a year, she had raised a half-million pounds to finance her venture, SeedRecruit, which finds talent for other start-ups. With two partners, she hired four more people.

“In London, every day is a fight,” she said. “But then you get rewarded. I don’t think this would have been possible in France.”

Such convictions are a challenge for officials like Axelle Lemaire, a lawmaker who represents the French population in Britain and Northern Europe in the National Assembly of France.

The growing number of French people settling in London is a sign that France needs to enhance competitiveness, Ms. Lemaire told me one afternoon in her office near Camden Market. But Anglo-Saxon-style capitalism was not the solution if it would compromise France’s social model, which she sees as protecting citizens from the ravages of the free market.

In Britain, “it has been surprising to see the level of deprivation of some of my fellow citizens,” she said. “When things fail here, they can wind up without a penny in their pockets, living on the street. That’s the part of the story you don’t hear.”

At the same time, she said, France’s generous safety net could not continue unchanged without risking further economic malaise. “Socialist politicians all agree on that now,” Ms. Lemaire said.

Back in France, Mr. Santacruz’s parents were still trying to grasp their son’s decision. Having spent her career at the state telecom company, his mother, like many others in her generation, assumed that her children’s main aspiration would also be lifelong job security.

“It’s 35 hours a week, good vacation, a pension and protections,” she told me. “O.K., it’s not very interesting, and I don’t get paid much. But it’s stable. I thought that’s a dream that our young people would want, too.”

His father saw Mr. Santacruz’s move as courageous but felt vexed to have invested in his son’s degrees, only to see him leave his country in a state of disillusionment.

The elder Mr. Santacruz had grown up poor, but eventually got a job as a government customs official.

“France gave me an opportunity to make a life,” he said. “The French Republic formed me, and it also formed Guillaume. When I hear young people disparage the country as they leave, I don’t like that. The children of France should not forget that the state has given them a lot.”

France? Maybe for Retirement

Guillaume Santacruz was grateful for the benefits that his country gave him. But he wanted something else — to innovate. By September, his project was not where he wanted it to be. Yet he maintained that he was better off pursuing it outside France.

He had incorporated Zipcube and had bites of interest from an executive at, a website for booking hotel rooms. But Knut, the investor, was not willing to invest after all, and Mr. Santacruz was again seeking financing.

Even if Zipcube fell apart, he told me one chilly weekend at his Kensington flat, where paint was peeling off the walls, “I would not change my mind and head back to France; I see only cons to doing that, no pros.” He was skeptical that the government’s recent offensive to spur France’s entrepreneurial environment would quickly bear fruit.

Several of his French friends in London felt the same way. “I asked them, if things don’t work out, will they go back? Not one of them would,” Mr. Santacruz said. “Maybe for retirement. But not for work — we’d rather go to the United States or Asia before returning.” France seemed to have lost another citizen in the prime of his productive working years.

By February, though, Mr. Santacruz’s foray to England was finally paying off. He had a new programmer and a partner who was handling marketing and sales. Zipcube was selected by Sirius, a British start-up accelerator program, for a grant of £36,000, and he had recently started to reel in some clients. Though he still needed to build the business, he felt he was on the right track.

And while the bar to succeed was high, “I’m confident I’m going to make it,” he declared.

Correction: March 25, 2014
An earlier version of this article referred incorrectly to Milestone Capital Partners. It is a British-French private equity firm, not a British-based investment bank.

A version of this article appears in print on March 23, 2014, on page BU1 of the New York edition with the headline: Au Revoir, Entrepreneurs.

The Great Skills Gap Myth

March 26, 2014

By: Aaron M. Renn
Via: New Geography

One of the great memes out there in trying to diagnose persistently high unemployment and anemic job growth during what is still, I argue, the Great Recession is the so-called “skills gap”. The idea here is that the fact that there are millions of unfilled job openings at the same time millions of people can’t find work can be chalked up to a lack of a skills match between unemployed workers an open positions. To pick one random example out of many, here’s the way US News and World Report put it last year:

“Some 82 percent of manufacturers say they can’t find workers with the right skills. Even with so many people looking for jobs, we’re struggling to attract the next generation of workers. The message about the opportunities in manufacturing doesn’t seem to be reaching parents and counselors who help guide young people’s career ambitions.

We face two major problems – a skills gap and a perception gap. Today’s modern, technology-driven manufacturing is not your grandparents’ manufacturing, yet for many, talk of the sector evokes images from the Industrial Revolution.”

What’s interesting about this is that the “skills gap” continues to have tremendous resonance in public policy discussions I come across although it’s very easy to find many mainstream press articles that challenge it. So I want to take my shot at the problem.

Is there a skill gap? In select cases I’m sure there’s a mismatch in skill, but for the most part I don’t think so. I believe the purported inability of firms to find qualified workers is due largely to three factors: employer behaviors, limited geographic scope, and unemployability.

Employer Behaviors

Let’s be honest, it’s in the best interest of employers to claim there’s a skills gap. The existence of such a gap can be used as leverage to obtain public policy considerations or subsidies. So there’s a self-serving element.

But beyond that, several behaviors of present day employers contribute to their inability to hire.

1. Insufficient pay. If you can’t find qualified workers, that’s a powerful market signal that your salary on offer is too low. Higher wages will not only find you workers, they also send a signal that attracts newcomers into the industry. Richard Longworth covered this in 2012. He explains that companies have refused to adjust their wages due to competitive pressures:

In other words, Davidson said, employers want high-tech skills but are only willing to pay low-tech wages. No wonder no one wants to work for them….So why doesn’t GenMet pay more? In other words, why doesn’t it respond to the law of supply and demand by offering starting wages above the burger-flipping level? Because GenMet is competing in the global economy. It can pay more than Chinese-level wages, but not that much more.

In other words, this company in question doesn’t have a skill gap problem, they have a business model problem. They aren’t profitable if they have to pay market prices for their production inputs (in this case labor). It’s no surprise firms in this position would be seeking help with their “skill gap” problem – it’s a backdoor bailout request.

2. Extremely picky hiring practices enforced by computer screening. If you’ve looked at any job postings lately, you’ll note the laundry list of skills and experience required. The New York Times summed it up as “With Positions to Fill, Employers Wait for Perfection.” Also, companies have chopped HR to the bone in many cases, and heavily rely on computer screening of applicants or offshore resume review. The result of this automated process combined with excessive requirements is that many candidates who actually could do that job can’t even get an interview. What’s more, in some cases the entire idea is not to find a qualified worker to help legally justify bringing in someone from offshore who can be paid less.

3. Unwillingess to invest in training. In line with the above, companies no loner want to spend time and money training people like they used to. I strongly suspect most of those over 50 machinists and such we keep hearing about learned on the job. Why can’t companies simply train people in the skills they need? When I started work at Andersen Consulting in 1992, we weren’t expected to have any specific skill. Instead, they were looking for general aptitude and spent big to train us in what we needed to know. In a sense, outside of some professional services fields, today’s companies, despite their endless talk about talent, don’t actually recruit talent at all. They are recruiting people with specific skills and experience. That’s a very different mindset.

4. Aesthetic hiring. This one I think is specific to select industries, but in some fields if you don’t have the right “look”, you’re going to find it difficult. For example, the NYT Magazine just today has a major piece called “Silicon Valley’s Youth Problem” talking about this very issue. Hip, cool startups see their working environment and culture as critical to success. And that’s true, but those cultures aren’t very inclusive, which is why many Silicon Valley firms are continuously under fire for various forms of discrimination. When they’re trying to be the hot new thing, the last thing an app startup wants is some 55 year old dude with a pocket protector cramping their style, no matter how much of a tech guru he might be.

Limited Geographic Scope

You frequently see the skills gap phrased in terms of specific geographies. For example, a state. Rhode Island has X number of unemployed people and Y number of unfilled jobs. So what do we do to match them up?

This type of thinking is too limited. I attended an hour brainstorming session on the Rhode Island skills gap a while back and not once did anyone suggest anything that crossed the state boundary. One person mentioned these technical high schools in Boston that produce grads with exactly the skills the market is needing. His idea was that Rhode Island needed to create these types of institutions. Not a bad idea, but I was struck that nobody thought about sending these Rhode Island employers who can’t find workers on the one hour drive to Boston to go hire some of those grads directly out of Boston’s high schools. Problem solved. And maybe while bringing some young, fresh blood into the state to boot.

Similarly, no one ever suggested that an unemployed person in Rhode Island might seek work out of state. Realistically, America has often solved unemployment problems through migration. People need to be willing to move to where the job opportunities are. In fact, if you look at the highly educated people who might say telling people to move in order to find work is evil awful, they are actually the most mobile people there are. Clearly the highly skilled see the value in pursuing opportunity through migration. We need to extend the same opportunity to those who are currently stuck in place.


A third problem is that a significant number of adults in this country are simply unemployable. If you’re a high school dropout, a drug user, etc. you are going to find it tough slogging to find work anywhere, regardless of skills required.

Watching the Chicagoland documentary and seeing what kids in these inner city neighborhoods face, a lack of machine tool or coding skills is far from the problem. Similar problems are now hitting rural and working class white communities where the economic tide has receded. Heroin, meth, etc. were things that just didn’t exist in my rural hometown growing up – but they sure do now.

These aren’t skill problems, they are human problems. And the answer isn’t simply job training. These problems are much, most more complex and they are incredibly difficult to solve. They need to be tackled by very different means than a job skills problem.

If you want more info that documents that there is no skills gap, google around and find plenty of economists crunching the numbers to show that’s the case. But I hope this gives you a sense of some of the trends that explain why there can be persistent unemployment with many job openings without recourse to a skills gap to explain it.

Aaron M. Renn is an independent writer on urban affairs and the founder of Telestrian, a data analysis and mapping tool. He writes at The Urbanophile, where this piece originally appeared.

How Companies Can Attract The Best College Talent

March 25, 2014

By: Sanjeev Agrawal
Via: Harvard Business Review Blog Network

Over the past year, my firm Collegefeed met with more than 300 companies to understand their college hiring strategies and tactics — from employers with large university hiring infrastructures to recently funded start-ups looking to hire fresh grads, interns, and young alum.

Not surprisingly, 84% understand that college hiring is important. Yet almost all agree that it’s really hard to attract good college talent. In fact, 92% believe they have a “brand problem” when it comes to their efforts; this problem is often expressed as the fact that “not everyone can be an employer like Facebook.” In other words, large, well-established companies feel they simply can’t be the newest thing out there generating buzz with Millennials.

To understand more about this underlying “brand problem,” and what employers can do about it, we polled 15,000 Millennials — 60 percent still in college and 40 percent recent graduates.* We asked them:

1. What are the top three companies you want to work for?

2. What are the top three things you look for when considering an employer?

3. How do you generally discover companies and create an impression about them (social media, product usage, campus events, other ways)?

Here’s how they responded:

Question 1:

Respondents had to type in and enter a name here, not select from a displayed list, which eliminates the pagination bias. That said, the top 10 in this list are not surprising at all: They are well-known brands that frequently appear in the “best places to work” lists.

But what’s noteworthy is the absence of well-known consumer brands such as Coca Cola. It’s also interesting that companies like and Qualcomm, which most college students don’t use, appear so high.

Question 2:

Given the first chart, you might expect things like “company mission” or “market leadership” to be on top. However “people and culture fit” is number one, followed by “career potential.” We expected “compensation” to be within the top five, but were somewhat surprised that it was only ranked fourth.

This data leaves one key takeaway: It is imperative to focus on communicating your culture and career growth to potential employees. The two fundamental questions that young job seekers ask, and that companies need to answer are: “What is it like to work there?” and “What kind of growth can I expect?”

Question 3:

These results blew us away. Most companies (almost 100% of the large ones we spoke to) say that they have an on-campus recruiting plan and that is where they focus their sourcing and branding efforts. Many also have dedicated organizations to build relationships on campus. According to a 2013 NACE study, 98.1% of companies they polled believe that on-campus fairs are the number one avenue for them to brand themselves with students.

However, this may not be the case. “Friends” showed up as the number one way Millennials hear about companies, according to our research, followed by job boards. You might also expect to see “Use their products every day” among the top five, but it showed up sixth.

Clearly, branding — how a company is perceived year round, across media types — is more important than just being present on campus. If college students like something, they tell their friends on social media or face-to-face.

So whether you sell ads, insurance, food, or routers, building a brand among college grads is about getting your story out. Sure, some companies have the basic advantage of “being among the top products students use daily” or “building the next big mobile app,” but you can also attract great talent by telling your story right – using language that Millennials relate to at places they frequent.

Here are the four most critical things you should do to improve your brand and attract the best college talent:

1. Get Your Best People to Engage With Students

Even if you are a company whose products never really get used directly by end users (think, Qualcomm, Ciena, Cisco) you can still show off your employees and organizational culture to send a simple but powerful message to students: “If you come work for us, you will get to work with awesome people like these.”

So if you go to campus, bring your best recent college hires along. Showcase the work interns, young alums, and others have done, and highlight the responsibilities they have been given. If scheduling the best people or alums is hard, or if you find the attendance of physical events is low, host virtual info sessions, another easy and scalable way to reach lots of great college talent.

In addition, some leading companies we spoke to set quarterly goals for managers to hire and spend time with potential hires from colleges, whether it’s attending career fairs or answering questions on Quora or blogging about their experiences. And this leads to another important thing you can do to attract college talent.

2. Go Where Students Are (and They’re Often Not at College Fairs)

Students are online all the time. Invest in a visually appealing, content rich site where students can go to and learn about your company. If you can, personalize the site to showcase the right alums, intern experiences, and the basic messages you want to deliver to potential hires. Done right, a good “brand page” can have the same effect as a great conversation at a career fair — it’s the story of your mission, your culture and why they should join you.

Next, use social media smartly. College students spend two to four hours daily on sites like Facebook and Twitter. If you can target them based on specific interests, who they follow, and what they are searching for or talking about, real-time engagement can be quite powerful. Depending on the type of talent you are targeting, sites like Quora and other more technical ones like Hacker News can be good places to establish your brand. Similarly, if targeting a broader audience, you can go far by using humor to engage students in entertainment properties like Reddit, BuzzFeed, and CollegeHumor — people share what they find funny.

One caveat across social media in general: most online communities don’t like being marketed to, so be authentic, add value to users, and be cautious of blatant self-promotion.

3. Make the Application Process Easy and Engaging

A complicated, multiple-page application form isn’t going to cut it anymore. For Millennials (and anyone else, really), the process should be easy and frictionless.

In addition, you can’t always wait for students to come to you. After connecting with a student at a career fair or online, it’s important to go back to them and encourage them to apply when they are ready.

Another engagement strategy leading companies have found is to pique student’s interests by holding online contests and activities that paint an interesting picture of their brand. Google, Microsoft and several other companies do this programmatically.

4. Prioritize Meaning Over Swag

Too many companies are focused on giving away swag, under the perception that free stuff gets eyeballs. But Millennials are more interested in identifying with your mission than they are in a free T-shirt. If you want their mindshare you have to go beyond swag, and that concept should extend beyond career fairs to everything they read and hear about you.

Are you securing people’s futures? Are you making the world green? Are you making life simpler for small and medium businesses? Whatever you do, you should be able to get the message out online — in a 20 or 30 second video. The U.S. Army’s age-old recruiting video is still a great example – it really makes you want to apply.

If you get meaning right, it won’t just be you doing the talking. Social referrals have incredible power in the college context, and we’re not talking about the “refer a friend, get $5” model. It comes down to whether a student genuinely likes who you are, what you do, and what you stand for.

*Of the responses received, 65 percent are in college and 35 percent recently graduated. 60 percent were male and 40 percent female. 50 percent were tech-oriented majors and 50 percent non-tech.

Unemployed In Europe Stymied By Lack Of Technology Skills

January 6, 2014

By: Liz Alderman
Via: The New York Times

DUBLIN — Week after week, newspapers issue a stream of hopeful headlines: Microsoft, PayPal, Fujitsu and scores of other companies are expanding their investments in Ireland, creating thousands of jobs as unemployment hovers near record highs.

There is just one hitch: Not enough people are qualified to fill all the jobs. In some cases, the companies have had to look outside Ireland to recruit candidates with the right skills.

After a five-year economic crisis, the mismatch represents one of the thorniest problems facing Ireland and many other European countries. Hundreds of thousands of people who lost work, and many young people entering the work force, are finding that their skills are ill suited to a huge crop of innovation-based jobs springing up across the Continent.

“In all countries, there is an expectation that many of the new jobs created will be in the knowledge-intensive economy,” said Glenda Quintini, a senior labor economist at the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. “But we are seeing a worrisome skills mismatch that means a large number of unemployed people are not well prepared for the pool of jobs opening up.”

Employers have long complained that graduates do not have the skills they need. But in a recent report, the International Labor Organization warned that “skills mismatches and occupational shifts have worsened” in Europe in the wake of the crisis. People laid off in hard-hit sectors, from construction to finance, face lengthy retraining, while too few graduates entering the job market have chosen engineering, science or technology degrees for the growing innovation-based jobs market.

The gap in Europe has important consequences for the recovery as the euro zone grapples with unemployment rates stuck stubbornly above 12 percent: It may hold back a return to meaningful growth and generate “significant economic and social costs,” according to the European Commission, the policy-making arm of the European Union.

The International Labor Organization went further, warning that the gap might contribute to extended spells of unemployment and might reduce the effectiveness of policy interventions to stimulate growth. In the United States, the phenomenon has also helped contribute to a rise in long-term joblessness, the organization said.

Around two million job vacancies around the European Union are languishing unfilled, about the same number as in 2010, in sectors ranging from hotel work to computer programming, according to Eurostat, the statistics office of the European Union.

A study released in November by Eurofound, the research arm of the European Union, showed that despite the recession, almost 40 percent of companies reported difficulty in finding workers with the right skills, compared with 37 percent in 2008 and 35 percent in 2005.

The problem is especially striking for innovation-based companies, which are generating jobs at a rapid clip as technology spreads through every sector of the economy. By 2015, about 900,000 information and communications technology vacancies may go unfilled in the European Union, the European Commission warned in a recent report on the digital economy. The gap “is of major concern to European competitiveness” and to the economy as a whole, the commission said.

Governments and companies around Europe are fast-tracking efforts to retrain the unemployed for a burst of technology-related jobs. They are also stepping up campaigns to lure university students to mathematics, engineering and science in place of popular courses in the humanities and social sciences.

In Ireland, the government introduced a series of retraining and higher-education programs and sought to polish the allure of mathematics degrees as alarm bells sounded over the issue a couple of years ago. At the time, unemployment was around 14 percent after an economic collapse that destroyed jobs in the construction sector, which had employed around a quarter of the young men in the country.

Multinational technology and social media companies kept investing, lured by Ireland’s ultralow 12.5 percent corporate tax rate and an English-speaking work force. But many have been forced to look outside the country for employees with the right skills, despite more than 391,500 being out of work and a jobless rate of around 12.5 percent.

The issue peaked last summer, when PayPal’s chief executive in Ireland, Louise Phelan, stoked controversy by acknowledging that the company had recruited from 19 other countries for 500 positions in its operations center in Dundalk because of a lack of foreign-language skills among Irish nationals. This summer, Fujitsu, which employs 800 people in Ireland, revealed that it had had to hire most of its Ph.D.-level experts from abroad.

All told, around half of information technology jobs in Dublin were being filled with foreign workers, while around 4,500 information technology jobs in the country were going unfilled because of a limited supply of suitably skilled applicants, various studies have shown. Paul Sweetman, the director of ICT Ireland, a business lobby group, said that part of Ireland’s strategy was to enhance its attractiveness as an investment and work destination by luring bright minds from around the world to the technology sector.

The skills shortage prevented Ireland-based companies from “effectively executing their business strategies,” which created a risk of lower productivity and slower growth, according to a recent report by the consulting company Accenture.

Part of the problem for all countries, not only Ireland, was that technology-related university training lost appeal after the dot-com bust in the early 2000s, said Regina Moran, the executive director of Fujitsu in Ireland. In Ireland, people flocked to construction or tourism work, which blossomed in the middle of the decade.

Ian Sharpe was one of them. He spent nearly 15 years working in the hotel industry until Ireland’s banking crisis strangled the Celtic Tiger and left him jobless in 2010. He languished on benefits as he tried fruitlessly to find new work.

But last year he latched on to back-to-work programs that the government had introduced with businesses.

Recently, 182 candidates — most of them unemployed, with backgrounds in fields including farming, construction and even astrophysics — went through retraining. One company, VMware, hired 82 people, and other companies hired nearly everyone else — including Mr. Sharpe.

On a recent weekday, he was huddled with a team of technicians in the Cork-based offices of VCE, a joint venture between VMware, Cisco, EMC and Intel that provides cloud and virtualization software and services.

After six months as an intern, he was hired full time to help manage a data center, with an annual salary of around 30,000 euros, or about $40,000 — about what he was making as a hotel manager.

The initiatives are not without flaws. For example, as part of the JobBridge internship program, people continue to collect unemployment and receive a modest €50 stipend per week. For many, that barely covers transportation and food. Stories have littered the Irish press of abuses by companies in the program, such as giving interns either menial tasks or fully fledged professional work with no pay, and with no job ultimately materializing.

Such talk was so widespread that Mr. Sharpe said that people had urged him not to enter the program. But he wanted to avoid the fate of a number of his friends who had fallen into a rut, where the longer they were unemployed, the less likely they were to get back into the job market.

“I know people who had to get medication for being depressed, because they don’t see anything coming,” he said.

He now has an air of hope. “I’ve gone from someone who had never been professionally involved in I.T. to getting an engineering position just nine months later,” Mr. Sharpe said.

“You can see where you’re going,” he added. “Finally, there’s something to aim for.”

Down in the Delta, Outsiders Who Arrived to Teach Now Find a Home

July 30, 2013

By: Bret Schulte
Via: The New York Times

HELENA-WEST HELENA, Ark. — If you are from around here, you know Doug Friedlander is not.

Born in New York City and reared on Long Island, Mr. Friedlander is Jewish and vegetarian and has a physics degree from Duke.

But here he is, at 37, living in a roomy white house in this hard-luck Delta town of 12,000. Mr. Friedlander and his wife, Anna Skorupa, are part of a gradual flow of young, university-trained outsiders into the Delta’s shrinking communities, many of whom arrived through Teach for America and stayed beyond their two-year commitment.

Mr. Friedlander is now the ambitious director of the county’s Chamber of Commerce. He frets over the kudzu that is devouring abandoned buildings. He attends Rotary Club meetings, where he sidesteps the lunch offerings for carnivores. He organizes workshops to modernize small businesses and pushes tourism and the development of a decimated downtown along the banks of the Mississippi.

The mechanization of agriculture, lost manufacturing and a legacy of poverty and racism have taken their toll on the Delta, but Mr. Friedlander is thrilled to be here. He left his job at a software company in North Carolina’s Research Triangle nine years ago, taking a two-thirds pay cut, to “make a bigger difference.”

To that end, “this is the most fertile soil on earth,” Mr. Friedlander said. “If I were in New York, I would be a leaf at the end of a branch at the end of a tree — in a forest.”

Mr. Friedlander arrived in 2004 to teach science at Central High School in Helena. He was one of 71 corps members in the Delta; currently, about 300 of them fan across the region’s classrooms each year, mostly in Arkansas and Mississippi.

Here, in towns like Helena, a former agricultural hub and river port, they find some of the most devastating poverty in the country: shacks on cinder blocks, schools with nearly all students on subsidized lunch programs.

Segregation is a fact of life. Private “white-flight academies,” as some locals call them, are common, leaving public schools to serve an overwhelmingly poor, black student body.

“I just knew when they left my classroom, it was an uphill battle for so many of my kids,” said Greg Claus, who is from Ohio and taught art at a public junior high school from 2008 to 2011. Now an assistant to the mayor of Greenville, Miss., he has seen the names of some former students on the police blotter. Several more are already parents.

Teach for America is fiercely competitive, drawing top graduates accustomed to success. “For most, this is the hardest challenge they’ve ever met,” said Luke Van De Walle, a 33-year-old corps alumnus from Indiana who has settled in Helena with his wife, Jamie, and their two young children. “They put a lot of effort in, and they get chewed up by 25 third graders.”

Still, some former members say they have never felt so satisfied.

Michelle Johansen, 37, arrived from the University of Michigan in 1997. Since then, she has become a volunteer manager at the farmers’ market in Cleveland, Miss. She works part time at Habitat for Humanity and is an adjunct instructor at Delta State University.

“I don’t want to leave,” said Ms. Johansen, who is married and has two children. “The work I’ve been able to do in the Delta is fulfilling.”

She does wish there were a Target in town. And a movie theater. There is no place to get brunch. But, she said, “there’s something about the Delta that’s very special, and if people are open to it, they will be captivated by it.”

Matty Bengloff, 28, is one of those people. He grew up in an apartment on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. Now he owns a three-bedroom home in Cleveland, as well as a hip new yogurt shop called Delta Dairy, with his fiancée, Suzette Matthews.

“The barriers here are low,” Mr. Bengloff said. “You can be really entrepreneurial. Everyone is eager to help.”

But the transition is not always easy.

Residents cured Mr. Bengloff of his Yankee ways. Soon after arriving in the South with Teach for America, Mr. Bengloff was in a school speaking to a receptionist. When he could not hear the man’s words, Mr. Bengloff asked, “What?” The receptionist said: “I can tell you’re not from around here. When you don’t understand something, you say, ‘Excuse me, sir?’ Or, ‘Sir?’ ”

Mr. Bengloff took the lesson to heart. Now his habitual use of “ma’am” irritates his mother back East. He drawls, “Thanks, y’all,” to customers passing through his shop.

Ms. Johansen and Mr. Bengloff said they were attracted to the quirks and complexity of the Delta.

They have found schools that are progressive and a complicated political scene. Ms. Johansen’s doctor is a catfish noodler (who fishes bare-handed). Shopping online is more necessity than convenience, though a two-hour jaunt to Memphis is common. The unofficial town motto, plastered on bumper stickers, is an ironic “Keep Cleveland Boring.”

No one, residents say, is too busy for a good chat.

“I know people who live in places with lots of things,” Ms. Johansen said. “Movie theaters. A Target. And they aren’t happy. I’m a happy camper.”

Mr. Bengloff, who is Jewish, found what locals call a “church family,” led by a retired rabbi who commutes from Memphis once a month. Just as many of the temple regulars are Christian as are Jewish, just because they like the diversity of experience and, said Mr. Bengloff, “the rabbi is great.”

Some longtime residents initially resented the inflow of Teach for America members with fancy degrees and backgrounds. Those troubles have largely eased over time. And the hard truth is, the Delta needs the people.

“It’s good having highly educated folks coming back,” said Chuck Roscopf, a lawyer in Helena. “My kids, my friends’ kids — they’re all gone. They’re in Dallas or just about anywhere else, but they won’t come back.”

Teach for America entered the Delta in 1992, when it dispatched a few dozen corps members to Helena and Marianna, Ark. The numbers and geographic reach expanded steadily but exploded in 2009 because of an influx of funds from the State of Mississippi and the Walton Family Foundation.

The organization now estimates that over those years, 250 corps members have stayed on after their two-year commitments were over. Some have remained in education; others found jobs in private industry and community organizations.

They have started education-based nonprofit groups, like Mississippi First and the Sunflower County Freedom Project. Mr. Friedlander and Ms. Skorupa, with other Teach for America alumni, were founding board members of a new Boys and Girls Club in Helena.

Mr. Friedlander remains a hard-charging New Yorker, which has rubbed some folks the wrong way.

“If he was just here to make money, they probably would have run him out of town,” said Jason Rolett, the executive director of the Boys and Girls Club of Phillips County. But Mr. Friedlander has won the trust of much of the community, Mr. Rolett said, “because of his heart, how much he cares.”

Mr. Friedlander enjoys ripping through a PowerPoint presentation of Helena’s new health center, riverboat tours, renovated historic buildings, a downtown emerging from ruin and new businesses. His pride is palpable.

Helena even has its first director of an advertising and promotion commission, Julia Malinowski, 27, from Seattle.

Word is spreading beyond the Teach for America crowd.

Recently, graphic designers opened a firm called Thrive in Helena after living for five years in Brooklyn, where “about 200,000 people were trying to do what I wanted to do,” said a co-owner, Terrance Clark.

He has had enough work in the Delta to hire two interns from Midwestern design schools this summer. And Mr. Clark has recruited a group of friends from Indianapolis to come to Helena to work on community projects under his company’s 501(c)(3) umbrella.

Mr. Clark, Ms. Malinowski and the rest work together in a chic business incubator downtown.

The space is airy and open, with interior brick and a glass conference room — sort of like what you would find in Brooklyn.

Deserted Desks: A Business Case For Education Reform

July 1, 2013