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Sleuthing to find the right employee

Sun, 12/31/2000 - 7:00pm
Angela Langowski, Associate Editor
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With the nations unemployment at an all-time low of 3.9 percent, broadband service providers (BSPs) and other technology companies are in a mad scramble, looking for skilled workers to design, build and maintain their networks. Even news about workforce slashings in dot-com companies hasnt dampened the ardor of technology recruiting companies looking for people to help ramp up new broadband networks. Some companies are even branching out with their recruiting by seeking students in high schools in inner cities like Detroit and Chicago, says Kate Hampford, executive vice president of Carlsen Resources, a technology recruiting firm. Those are the smart companies that see that this is not a short-term problem were in right now, she says.

But despite the low unemployment rate, some BSPs arent having as much trouble finding employees to staff their companies. These companies say they are being inundated with resumes. So which is it, feast or famine in the technology recruitment world?

Employees wanted for nationwide BSPs
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Hanssel

In Evansville (Indiana) we get hundreds of unsolicited resumes, says Dan Hanssel, vice president of marketing and sales for Utilicom, a Franklin, Mass.-based company that works with deregulated utility companies serving second- and third-tier markets to help provide their customers with enhanced voice, data and video services. Utilicom prefers to be referred to as a broadband communications company, and it is building hybrid fiber/coaxial networks in Evansville and Indianapolis, Ind., Dayton, Ohio and Louisville, Ky.

Were deluged with applicants because people like the idea of what were doing and the fact that we are going to be a significant long-term player in the market, says Hanssel. He says Utilicom has only had to pay headhunters fees for one or two employees, opting instead to use Internet job postings to get the majority of its 200 employees in subsidiary company SIGECOM. To fill the vast majority of our positions, weve found we were able to do that locally. Theres usually a pretty high level of interest in what were doing to generate a good pool of candidates.

The allure of working in a state like Indiana where the cost of living is low compared to states like California has helped recruit out-of-state candidates, says Hanssel.

Im sure we do offer incentives like (stocks and bonuses), says Hanssel. The point is we dont have to do anything extraordinary.

Another company that hasnt had any trouble recruiting candidates is Texas-based BSP Grande Communications. Grande is also building an HFC network in Austin, San Marcos, New Braunfels and San Antonio. The company has 340 employees.

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Morrow

Weve gotten the bulk of our people from (within) the state, says William Morrow, Grandes founder and CEO. We dont have a problem at all getting applicants, but we strive not just to hire bodies, but to hire passion, commitment and talent. Theres usually a pretty high level of interest in what were doing to generate a good pool of candidates.

Grande is looking to ramp up its employee base to about 540 persons by the end of 2001. The companys methods for recruitment include employing headhunters and screening resumes through its Web site (grandecom.com) that employs the screening engine hire.com, says Morrow.

As far as employee incentives, Morrow says Grande employees automatically get stock options because owners make better decisions than employees do. 

Charlotte, N.C.-based Carolina Broad-band has barely started recruiting employees for the digital fiber network it is building, but the company has been pleasantly surprised to see how interested people are in seeking employment with the company, says Darla Davis, the companys director of hu-man resources.

The company currently has 75 employees but will have to hire about 1,200 employees during the next five years to build out its network. The privately held competitive broadband technical company (as it chooses to be referred to) plans to build its network in Charlotte, Durham, Greensboro, Raleigh and Winston-Salem, N.C. and Columbia, Greenville and Spartanburg, S.C.

We havent had to reach out to the candidates as much as I thought we were going to have to, says Davis. Some of the challenges were going to have to face (include) hiring in the customer service department. Theres a strong volume of customer service companies here in the Charlotte area so theres a resource of trained candidates. Ive seen other companies staff 400- to 500-person call centers pretty quickly in this area.

Carolina Broadband is using Web sites to advertise company positions. The company also has ambitious training plans for its employees, including working with VCampus, an e-Learning application service provider. VCampus will provide e-learning in telecommunications, IT and desktop training courses for Carolina Broadband employees.

Recruiting for California

Altrio Communications, which prefers to call itself a competitive services provider, is building its HFC network in Los Angeles and has to compete for employees in a state that has a lower unemployment rate than the rest of the country.

But, CTO Dave Large says the company has had a slew of candidates and two-thirds of the 16 employees that have been hired to date are people that the three founders knew.

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Jennings

The company is working with headhunters and advertising positions on a large group of diversity job Web sites, says Richard Jennings, senior vice president of human resources. The company plans to have 130 employees by summer 2001.

Hiring CSRs to answer the phone is going to be one of the companys biggest recruiting challenges, according to Large and Jennings. What were looking for in terms of CSRs is bright, articulate people, says Jennings. What were looking for might not exist, says Large of the high technological skill set they would need, who adds the company would have two full-time trainers on staff to help fill the skill gaps.

We are finding that we need to distinguish ourselves from the start-ups people are more familiar with, especially dot-com start-ups, says Jennings. But weve been very successful so far pulling in the people we wanted to. Nobody weve wanted so far has turned us down.

(Hiring skilled employees) is the same challenge that Adelphia, Cox, Time Warner and AT&T are facing, says Large. We wouldnt be sitting here if we thought it was an insurmountable challenge. We think its surmountable.

Denver-based WINfirst is using employees from its strategic partner companies including Bechtel Corp., Lucent Technologies and Andersen Consulting, to add to its employee base of just over 100 persons. The company is building a fiber-to-the-home network in Sacramento and San Diego, Calif.; Houston, Dallas, Austin and San Antonio, Texas; and Portland, Ore.

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Moosajee

People recognize what were doing and we get a constant stream of resumes, says Shiraz Moosajee, vice president of business development. We find that the best people recognize and understand what were doing, so naturally they gravitate toward us.

Were using a lot of the great people our partners have as part of our relationship with them, says Moosajee. We just dont have to hire them. Were mostly hiring in the local markets.

Other broadband recruiting sources

The fact that these companies said they havent had much trouble finding and hiring employees is puzzling to Carlsen Resources Hampford.

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Hampford

Im just trying to figure out why people are (saying) theyre having no trouble, says Hampford. I dont get that. I dont know anywhere that isnt experiencing a labor shortage.

The only thing I can attribute it to is people seem to be less concerned about job hopping now than they have been in the past. They hear somebodys hiring and the dollars look a little better . . . So thats about the only thing I could think of that might explain why some people maybe really arent having trouble.

Carlsen Resources is a retained boutique technical recruiting agency. The company employs seven recruiters specializing in hiring senior-level positions for the cable television and broadband industries.

Hampford says the company is doing well as far as recruiting for open technical positions. Its an interesting time. Its a very competitive market for candidates.

The hot ticket, according to Hampford, is on the operations sideespecially people who know how to either facilitate a multi-product operation or how to market and sell it. Hiring those all-important CSRs is more difficult today because of the skills a CSR is expected to have.

We thought it was hard to hire before when they had to know the channel lineup and pay packages, says Hampford. Now were talking about them having to handle all the issues around high-speed data and telephony. The skill set keeps going up.

Hampford says the companys recruiters are attending workshops and seminars on how to recruit for technical positions. Were looking at every possible way to learn about people.

The goal of FatPipeU is to bring a whole new generation of technical competence and customer service skills into the industry, says founder and CEO Matthew Feshbach.

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Feshbach

The company calls itself a hybrid between a staffing company and a training company. We call that particular offering a skills shortage solution, says Feshbach.

The company has designed self-paced study materials for the positions it has been contracted to hire for companies like AT&T Broadband and Fleur Corp. The company gets an order for certain positions from these companies and then FatPipeU recruits the people, trains them, and puts them on FatPipeUs payroll while they are being trained until they are ready to be placed within the company that contracted FatPipeU.

The training method is our core competency, says Feshbach. Whats unique about what we do, especially when it comes to large MSOs, is that by packaging both the recruitment and the training into an integrated solution, we take a huge amount of cost and friction out of their business.

The company finds people to train by placing ads in local papers, working with community groups and getting referrals from students who have successfully completed FatPipeU training programs.

There are 9 to 10 million underemployed people out there, says Feshbach. We get a surprising amount of referrals because our students have such great success. Our students feel so good about the training that we give them that they really want others to have the same experience.

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Bradner

Scientific-Atlantas SciCare Broad-band Services originated when S-A decided to commit to the notion that the company needed to provide a rich set of professional services to its customers, says Larry Bradner, president of SciCare.

SciCare Broadband Services has three training divisions: 1) Broadband network services, which focuses on training people on deploying HFC plant, and activating the reverse path and making sure the return path works with telephony, data and interactive TV; 2) Subscriber network services, which focuses on training on post-launch services; and 3) Scientific-Atlanta Institute, which is SciCares education arm. It offers training on subjects like network boot camp, HFC networks, IP networking and ATM switching.

It occurred to us that its not about training anymore, says Bradner. Its about technology, leadership and development within the MSO.

SciCare has more than 300 employees who work with MSOs and BSPs. The company found its trainers in network-centric companies and they also got some employees from the dot-com fallout, says Bradner.

SciCare has been training a cross-section of skilled people, says Bradner. Were seeing more capable people coming through because I think all of our customers are obviously aware that their talent is going to be a big determinant of their future success.

Your call center is going to change rather quickly. Its no longer going to be about snowy pictures or talking people through how to hook up their VCR. You start doing pizza-on-demand; you better know how its going to work. You better have the relationships and the understanding established with the local delivery service and you better train your CSRs. Because youre going to get a call and somebody is going to say, I ordered my pizza on your TV and I punched sausage and I got pepperoni. What are you going to do about it?

Overall, demand is still there

Even though several BSPs are saying they are being inundated with resumes, the demand is still there for highly skilled employees. These companies are optimistic they will be able to hire enough employees to build their networks, but only time will tell. In the meantime, these companies will keep building their networks to meet the overwhelming demand for these services.

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