Technology companies, largely thanks to the firms that make their money from ad revenue, are increasingly being viewed as villains. Uncaring behemoths that show up in books like Brotopia as bad actors. But there are firms fighting back against this image and related bad practices who believe the future isn’t the world vs. tech firms, but the world enhanced by them. One of the firms that is aggressively trying to showcase how you can do well by doing what is right is Cisco, and one of their more interesting programs is their Networking Academy.
This Academy is focused on taking people with few skills and turning them into networking resources that can be used to install, service, and maintain networking solutions. At the heart of this, I think, is the belief that employees are the greatest asset inside a firm and that assuring the quality and the supply of this resource is adequate is critical to success. I’m not talking just about the success of the firm but the success of the community the firm is located in.
Let’s talk about Cisco’s Networking Academy this week.
The Importance of Community Integration
We know that people really don’t like to relocate, yet it is often the case that when a company builds a new plant or facility—particularly in an emerging market—they bring in existing employees from outside the area because local talent doesn’t exist. This introduces a large number of people who likely don’t want to live in an area mucking with the local politics, creating resentment as housing prices and traffic increase, and putting a great deal of stress on the local community and the employees newly planted into it.
The reason this is largely done is because firms don’t want to take the time and effort to recruit and train local talent and the result is a facility that may be unsustainable due to a lack of available talent. And remember—this isn’t just for factory sites but it is appropriate for distribution, sales, and support for the firm’s partners and customers in-country as well.
A better, though arguably longer, process is to recruit and train locally so that employees don’t have to be relocated and so that local resources are developed not only to work in the plant but to service in-country what the company sells. You see, the goal of a remote plant is often to provide better for the country it is in but, if the firm has inadequate local human resources, then the odds that the result will be successful are significantly longer.
Cisco’s Networking Academy
This is where Cisco’s Networking Academy comes in. It is a program designed to identify, enable, train, and hire (or get hired by a partner) local resources to support Cisco’s global expansion. Current enrollment in the Academy has exploded from around 27,000 in 1998 to 1.3M students in 2017 (Cisco only employs around 73,000 employees itself). This means that the clear majority of those trained at Cisco’s Academy go on to become employed by Cisco partners and customers to assure a complete supply of international human resources needed to sell, service, and support the firm’s increasingly diverse product line.
This not only helps Cisco’s bottom line, but it improves customer satisfaction as well because the Networking Academy assures the quality of those working on Cisco solutions regardless of whether they work for Cisco or not. This directly addresses a common industry problem where resellers and third-party service organizations can badly damage the perceptions surrounding a product if those people are poorly vetted and poorly trained. Cisco’s Networking academy assures the Networking Academy candidates are both vetted and trained, thus better-assuring the Cisco solutions these people work on.
Employees are often treated as a disposable resource with little focus on the communities they live in or assuring adequate supply. Cisco isn’t like most companies and their Networking Academy showcases a sharp interest in the communities Cisco operates in, addressing the need for in-country qualified resources to assure stability and quality, and in improving the socio-economic standing in developing countries where Cisco operates.
While this is only one of a number of socially responsible things Cisco does, from the standpoint of building a more sustainable company, Cisco’s Networking Academy may be their most powerful and important. I just wish every tech company would address their own staffing needs as aggressively and competently.