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Trust is not foreign

Hiring foreign workers has its risks and rewards. 4/24 Enterprise Pursuits hed: Trust is not foreign dek: Hiring foreign workers has its risks and rewards. Nelson King

There are few things more difficult in IT than matters of personnel. It’s tough enough when the general environment for hiring IT employees is chaotic. Through 2000 it was an incredibly tight market. Then as the dot-coms folded left and right, they spilled many qualified employees onto the job market. That’s helped, only these employees don’t fit all the bills, and anyway, there aren’t enough of them. Even a sharp downtown in the economy probably won’t shake loose all the employees needed by IT, and it sure looks like in another year we’ll be back to heavy-duty recruitment.

I did some thinking about this situation just before lunch. It was a lunch at which I got to play matchmaker–a very occasional role. I was bringing together a young lady who specializes in helping IT employers find foreign workers and a friend and IT veteran whose company had never, ever, seen the need to hire foreign workers either here or abroad.

So why was I playing matchmaker? A few days before, my friend had called me and, after much beating around the bush, asked what I know about hiring foreign workers. “Next to nothing,” I said. “Except maybe one thing: foreign or not, you’re hiring people, and the same principles–and difficulties–apply, only maybe more so.” I could hear the wheels churning, even over the phone. “What gives?” I asked, because I knew his company and I assumed either there’d never been any need for foreign workers, or there was some kind of unwritten policy about it.

“Necessity, mixed with some greed.” He replied. My friend has always been the blunt and honest type. It gets him into trouble sometimes. This could be one of those times. He continued, “We’ve got a chance at a very big contract. It’s a perfect match for our services, but it requires a lot of new software. It’s way beyond our current resources to develop it. We’d have to nearly double the size of our shop, and even then I’m not sure we could make a reasonable schedule. We also can’t pay a fortune–the bid won’t allow it.”

I got the picture: a major opportunity, but the staffing requirements could kill it. Hiring less-expensive foreign IT workers, especially relatively short-term programmers, certainly sounded like a way to go. However…

“I can think of some reasons to be careful.” I said. “But I’m not the one to tell you about them. I do know somebody who makes a living bringing foreign workers and corporations together. She’d be the one to talk to.”

“Discreetly?” he asked.

“Okay,” I said. “Sure. I can arrange a lunch at Café Incognito.”

“Good.” He said. And so I became a luncheon matchmaker.

It took Joyce about five minutes of chitchat to size up the situation. She too can be blunt, although in her position the naked truth is probably the only path to long-term success. (I’m sure she can show the scars from trying other paths.)

“Have you heard about the H-1B ruling in California?” she asked. My friend obviously hadn’t (and should have). “A judge ruled that a company was using an illegally restrictive contract with a foreign worker–illegal finder’s fee, illegal noncompete agreement. That company is a broker for foreign workers, but I’ve seen the same approach taken by all kinds of companies. They want to get the best deal they can.”

My friend seemed baffled. “Maybe your company wouldn’t work that way,” Joyce said. “But I’ll bet you could wind up contracting for workers with a third-party company. They might do something that makes them–and you–liable. You have to think about things like this.”

I could tell my friend was rapidly losing appetite, but Joyce is not psychologically naïve. “You can still do two things with foreign workers: Hire them, and pay them less. You can get your needed IT people and you may not pay as much. But you have to be very careful about what it really costs to hire them, considering the various risks.”

The best thing I can say about matchmaking is that when you get two like people together, they can sometimes understand their compatibility. In this case, two straight talkers managed through mutual scare/be scared tactics to find a common ground. Joyce had a client. I had a friend who would not only be scared enough to think about all that hiring foreign workers implies, but would also listen to Joyce and take her advice.

As far as I’m concerned, that’s what hiring personnel–foreign or otherwise–is all about: Disclosure and trust. Or at least that’s a good place to start.

Editor at large Nelson King also writes Pursuits monthly for ComputerUser magazine.

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