I had the pleasure of attending the Seattle Business Monthly’s Tech Impact Awards this week at the Washington State Convention Center, which featured businesses of all shapes and sizes – some familiar, some soon-to-be-famous – but all with a focus of using information technology as a way to improve the customer experience or enhance their business in some new way. Winners included:
Amazon Web Services, Apptio, Big Fish Games, Decide, Eagleview Technologies, Edifecs, Edvation, ExtraHop Networks, Jackson Fish Market, Livemocha, Mammogray Reporting System, Microsoft (Windows Azure and Photosynth), Panopto, RealSelf, Redfin, SEOmoz, Skanska, Starbucks, Synapse Product Development, Zillow, Zipline Games, and Zulily.
A special “Lifetime Achievement” recognition was awarded to John McAdam, CEO of F5 Networks, for his role in transforming the company during his tenure there, beating out much larger competitors and expanding its employee base to 2,500 worldwide.
The program was a lot of fun, especially as I was sitting next to the energetic foursome from Decide, who described themselves as the” big data technology version of Consumer Reports” by helping educate shoppers as to the best deals on products and services. Also appreciated were our friends at the WTIA (Washington Technology Industry Association), who where partners at this event and were masterful at making us all feel welcome.
The theme of the evening that ran throughout was innovation, but a strong corollary was the need to maintain Seattle’s edge in creative thinking and great talent. Keynote speaker Rich Barton of Zillow gave a impassioned plea for the need to keep and grow talent in the region while his colleague, Chief Revenue Officer Greg Schwartz, later gave a blunt ask at the podium to help their company fill 100 job openings; going as far as giving out his email address in front of the crowd. Seems like a good time for Northeastern to enter the mix, given the employment need in this sector.
Congratulations to all the winners and we look forward to working with you in the years to come!
Fight or flight choices are about survival. Knowing when it’s best to make a tactical retreat and when it’s time to fight is baked into our genes. Northeastern University President Joseph Aoun’s strategic investments illustrate the advantage of fighting while others are fleeing – in some cases.
Sometimes the Only Viable Defense is Offense
During the American Civil War, General Joshua Chamberlain was told to hold the end of the Union line on Little Round Top at Gettysburg “at all costs.” If he and his forces did not, the Confederate army would overrun the entire Union army. So they held. They held through multiple attacks and ever-mounting causalities. They held until they had exhausted their ammunition. Then they could hold no longer. So they attacked. Their bayonet charge resulted in 101 prisoners and the retreat of the Confederate forces they faced.
The Northeastern Advance
The economic troubles of the past several years have hit universities hard. With endowments and fundraising in decline and costs rising, many universities have been forced to slash and burn their offerings or even shutter completely.
Aoun faced those same issues, and the same fight or flight dilemma. Aoun chose to fight. “We are not retrenching.” Instead, he chose to leverage Northeastern’s strengths and invest to grow, particularly in its renowned internship program, faculty and facilities.
While here in Seattle we take pride in our Northeastern University – Seattle streetcar described elsewhere and on our website, the University as a whole has also clearly been on the move in many respects. A few weeks ago The Princeton Review found that Northeastern has the No. 1 Best Internships/Career Services department in the country. Two more indicia this week document Northeastern’s steady progress in providing a quality education that leads to excellent employment opportunities. First, US News and World Report rated Northeastern as 56th in the Top National Universities category, moving up six slots from 2011. Yesterday the Wall Street Journal had an article on the important role an effective co-op or internship program plays in helping graduates get job offers at a rate well above average. It championed Northeastern’s leadership and success in this area. At Northeastern, more than 90% of undergrduates participate in the University’s signature co-op program – it’s woven into their academic experience, and as a result over half get one or more job offers by the time they graduate from a previous co-op employer. The power of the practical experience in Northeastern’s co-op program is also found in the number of applicants who compete for a spot in the entering freshman class. This year, over 44,000 applications were submitted for the Fall 2012 class of 2,800. Seattle businesses may just find their first co–op student in this class, which includes students from 99 countries.
Northeastern is new to Seattle, but it has a tremendous history of innovation and transformation which has propelled into the global stage. The new Northeastern University – Seattle graduate campus is the latest example of innovation and positive growth. Our 15 graduate degree programs available in January 2013 will fill the region’s urgent need for high-skilled employees in technology, health, engineering, financial and leadership areas. For years, Northeastern has had dozens of co-op students at many of Seattle’s largest companies; the new campus will help to further grow this program. Stay tuned for more opportunities at Northeastern Seattle.
Getting from college to a paycheck is a big worry for young adults; in 2011, only 18% of college grads had job offers by the end of April before graduation, according to the National Association of Colleges and Employers.
That’s lending new appeal to a century-old college program long disdained by elite schools as “vocational education” – the co-op plan.
Students in co-op programs alternate classroom courses with several months’ paid or unpaid work related to their major, earning college credit from the experience. Students often need five years to graduate from co-op programs, but universities that offer them say co-op grads get job offers at a rate well above average, and applicants are beating a path to their doors. Such programs are especially hot in a tight job market where employers are less likely to take a chance on inexperienced graduates or to offer on-the-job training.
The Metropolitan Seattle Chamber of Commerce hosted a meeting today with key immigration experts to discuss the need of many Seattle companies to meet their staffing needs with highly skilled workers from overseas. Northeastern University -Seattle’s Dean, Tayloe Washburn, attended this special presentation, at which US Citizen and Immigration Service (CIS) Director Alejandro Mayorkas outlined the increased use of EB-5 and H-1B visas and discussed recent changes in his office to make these programs work more efficiently. A panel of experts from local companies shared their views and recommendations.
Seattle’s innovative companies face concerns in meeting their needs for obtaining high skill workers. There are thousands of unfilled computer science and engineering jobs at present at these companies. Existing excellent higher education institutions here in Washington produce graduates in these areas, but the number of graduates falls far short of the needs of companies such as Microsoft, Amazon and Boeing, as well as dozens of technology companies. Just last month, Microsoft had 6,000 unfilled positions, of which 3400 were in engineering and research areas.
Northeastern University is establishing a graduate campus in Seattle in part to address this problem and help increase the production of workers and students with graduate degrees in areas such as computer science, engineering and health sciences. For companies with immediate need for skilled workers that cannot currently be filled in this state or nation, securing an H-1B visa is one possible way to recruit workers from outside the US. An H-1B visa is used by leading companies which seek to bring immigrants with essential skills. There is a cap on how many of these visas can be issued, and the demand is such that the cap for 2012 was met only two months into the year. Microsoft, Google and Amazon invest significant efforts into securing these visas.
The seminar included a panel of HR leaders, including Karen Jones from Microsoft. She said this is a critical issue as many businesses rely on STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) talent to remain competitive in a global market. She noted that our colleges and universities do not produce enough graduates in STEM to fill needs we have. By the year 2020 we will need an additional 1.6 million STEM graduates; however American schools are projected to graduate less than half that number. This requires many American companies to look outside the US to meet their staffing needs. As a nation we should be concerned, as other countries are rapidly filling this gap and offering incentives for companies to site outside the US.
Beth Sharpes from the global travel company Expedia, which has its headquarters in Washington State, also outlined their many unfilled positions in highly technical areas. The cap on H-1B has been very frustrating.
Amy Garret-Cowan manages immigration recruitment at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center. In its Seattle offices it has over 200 foreign nationals from 53 countries. To accomplish its mission in biomedical research, Fred Hutchinson must compete in global workforce recruitment, as it needs the very best scientists, no matter where they are from. The pool it is trying to attract is smaller and harder to find.
Changes the panelists would like to see include removing the caps on H-1B visas, increased funding for STEM education, and more efficient processing of green card applications. The conference ended with a recognition that nothing is likely to happen until after the November election, and that a large-scale education of Americans is required to realize how very important immigrants are to the health of our economy now and into the future. US Representative Adam Smith noted that an obsession with undocumented foreign workers and a mistaken perception that our unemployment rate requires that we admit fewer foreign workers are two policy perceptions that make progress in Washington DC very difficult.
Colleges and universities in Washington state, including Northeastern University-Seattle, must work together and do all we can to produce home-grown talent in STEM areas to meet the needs of the companies we are currently fortunate to have here in our state. This seminar made it very clear that if we fail to meet this challenge, we put at risk the retention and growth of these innovative companies.
Washington State faces a major skills gap in several areas, such as technology, computer science, and engineering, and is stepping up to this challenge. The future of any region in the US depends on its ability to power student success in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). In Washington State, STEM jobs have grown at a rate three times greater than non-STEM jobs. While the state ranks first in the concentration of STEM jobs, it has a dismal record in producing STEM graduates. Almost half of the students who enter community colleges and four year universities in the state need remedial math. Given the state’s difficulty in funding public education, exacerbated by the Great Recession, the business community is stepping up to help in a variety of ways. The main vehicle for reform and action is the creation of Washington STEM, a statewide nonprofit dedicated to advancing innovation, equity and excellence in STEM education. www.washingtonstem.org. Launched last year, Washington STEM partners with education, business and community leaders to bridge opportunities in education and economy that reimagine STEM education for all students.
Northeastern University – Seattle has jumped in to help the STEM effort in Washington. It has served as a convener in bringing together over the summer STEM leaders from the public and private sectors, including Washington STEM. The Metropolitan Seattle Chamber’s annual Regional Leadership Conference this October will focus in part on advancing the state’s STEM agenda at the federal, state and regional levels. For more information, contact Dean Tayloe Washburn at firstname.lastname@example.org. Starting in January 2013, Northeastern-Seattle will provide much-needed advanced degrees for working professionals who want to advance their skills and careers in many STEM areas. Dean Washburn yesterday joined other STEM leaders at Washington STEM’s offices to hear Brian Kelly, Editor of U.S. News & World Report, discuss why STEM is a top priority for US News and why he believes Washington STEM’s leadership efforts are a great model for other states to follow.
The event’s take-away pen: a rocket ship, wish-bone, or…what is it?