High tech calls on higher ed
News | 13 Nov 2014
High-tech companies in the U.S. often lament the lack of technology-based education programs that prepare American students for jobs in the sector. The irony is that these careers pay well, and offer promising futures to a workforce that's been ambivalent about job prospects in recent years. In late 2012, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce reported that unemployment in science and technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields is virtually nonexistent for many occupations, while those with advanced degrees in STEM disciplines enjoy full employment. To reach those coveted young workers who are prepared for technology-driven careers, some Central Massachusetts companies are seeking to strengthen their relationships with the universities that groom them. That's true of Zensar Technologies, an IT management services provider based in India.
This summer, Zensar announced an alliance with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Center for Digital Business within the Sloane School of Management. As a sponsor of the center, Zensar will have access to MIT's cutting-edge research in the digital technology space. It also gives Zensar access to something arguably more important: fresh talent. Zensar and other sponsors can also submit projects for consideration.
Both undergraduate and graduate students are offered the opportunity to conduct research that companies can apply as they develop their products and services. "To have access to some of the greatest minds around will really help us," said Eric Archuleta, Zensar's U.S. vice president of digital enterprise. In addition to research, Archuleta said partnering with MIT gives Zensar a chance to introduce itself to students as a potential employer, while seeing students in action. That's important, given the high volume of technology companies in Cambridge and Boston ready to scoop up new graduates. Vivek Gupta, chief executive of global infrastructure management at Zensar, said the company is in growth mode. Zensar acquired Akibia in Westborough in 2010, and rebranded the business under the Zensar name in 2013.
Now, with operations in Northborough and Westborough, Zensar executives are planning to expand the local workforce. Gupta said the company is in talks with other colleges and universities regarding launches of similar alliances that will connect it with students from a variety of backgrounds. He said Zensar needs well-trained employees from community colleges as well as prestigious universities to fill jobs at different levels. "We can see it's going to … lead us to attract the best talent for our needs, and also help employment in general in the Boston area," Gupta said, though he declined to discuss which schools Zensar may partner with in the future. Central Mass. spillover? Central Massachusetts companies, particularly those in MetroWest, have the unique advantage of being situated between two of the top technology-based universities in the nation, and the world. To the west, Worcester Polytechnic Institute has deep roots in private-sector partnerships. One of its founding principles is to provide an education that's useful to society, and each student dabbles in the workforce as undergraduates, working with companies on a senior project that's required for graduation. There are alliances similar to the one between Zensar and MIT, where companies offer students research projects to support their development. David Ortendahl, director of corporate relations at WPI, said the companies are observing students and sometimes offering them jobs. Because WPI graduates are in high demand, students have no shortage of opportunities. But they're choosy, waiting for jobs that offer a chance to work on projects that genuinely interest them, Ortendahl said. "The key is for employers and for companies … to be able to truly partner with the university so they can understand what their desires really are," he said.
Worcester beneficiary Building strong ties with higher education is particularly beneficial to early-stage companies that are still evaluating their products for commercialization. Microbiotix Inc., in Worcester, is one. While clinical trials for infectious-disease treatments are ongoing, Microbiotix has hired several interns and employees from WPI, as well as UMass Medical School, which is right across the street from Microbiotix's office in Worcester's Biotech Park. Donald Moir, chief scientific officer at Microbiotix, said having that brainpower in the neighborhood is invaluable. "We need people who are smart and really want to learn new things. And it's just so much nicer if they've had some experience in the laboratory already," Moir said. Courtney McCarthy, a recent WPI graduate who works at Microbiotix as a research biologist, said she qualified for a number of jobs when she finished school because she had extensive experience working in a lab.
But after completing an internship at Microbiotix, McCarthy knew it was a good fit. McCarthy said most of her classmates headed to the Boston area to work, but she appreciates working at a small Worcester company that allows her to dabble in many research areas. "Bigger companies kind of push you into one little section (of research)," McCarthy said. "I get to part of a little bit of everything."