CIO hits college fairs to court tech talent

CIO hits college fairs to court tech talent

Textron CIO Diane Schwarz dishes details of the recruiting trail that took her to the University of Notre Dame career fair last week, where she spent three days scouting prospective IT candidates.

It wasn’t a trip down memory lane that brought Diane Schwarz to her alma mater, the University of Notre Dame, last week. The global CIO of Textron, a $14 billion maker of anything from helicopter engines to golf carts was looking toward the future – specifically, to cultivate potential hires in computer science and other crucial areas.

Schwarz spent three days in South Bend, Indiana, for the school’s career fair, explaining to students that Textron is a desirable place to work. “When it’s college recruiting time, it’s all hands on deck and we’re going out and building relationships with universities to fill our pipelines,” says Schwarz, who became the company’s global CIO in 2013, told “I have to be out there convincing computer science majors why working for corporate IT is going to be just as fulfilling as working out in Silicon Valley,” Schwarz says.

Textron CIO Diane Schwarz

Textron CIO Diane Schwarz

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Schwarz’ challenge is great in an era where Facebook, Google as well as smaller Internet companies such as Box, Uber and Airbnb are commanding the attention of students, particularly those in the highly coveted STEM fields. These companies offer graduates the potential to work on anything from driverless cars to bleeding-edge predictive analytics projects. The allure of innovation, relatively free from the bureaucracy of corporate IT departments, has made it difficult for global companies to recruit employees. That’s why it’s imperative for more traditional companies such as 92-year-old Textron to target prospective talent early at U.S. universities and colleges.

Trolling for talent at college fairs

Encouraged to identify talent early by CEO Scott C. Donnelly, Schwarz and scores of executives in engineering, finance and other departments divvy up several institutions they view as “enterprise schools,” where they enjoy the most success identifying talent. Notre Dame and the University of Maryland have engineering talent across several disciplines. Textron looks to Boston College for finance. Central Michigan University and Georgia Southern are known for cranking out graduates who specialize in SAP business software.

The first six weeks of each fall semester are critical, because it’s when many universities host career fairs. Schwarz, who as “team captain” leads recruitment efforts at Notre Dame, says she and other executives wore V-neck T-shirts emblazoned with the slogan “Make Something Real.”

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Rather than boast about Textron’s efforts in mobile and analytics, she encourages them to discuss their technology interests, including anything from business intelligence to cybersecurity. She also brings along employees who recently graduated to help market Textron to students. They don’t treat freshmen any different than the seniors; building the rapport at any stage at the college level is critical because it allows Schwarz and her colleagues to plant the seed that Textron is an innovative place to work. She’ll take on students as summer interns as well, which she says is essentially a two-month job interview.

Lily Mok, a Gartner analyst who covers talent management, agrees. She says it’s important for traditional companies, whose IT departments are not viewed with the same credibility as technology companies, to cultivate a relationship STEM students early -- and keep the conversation going. “Talent competition is so high and finding a good school with the right talent and the right curriculum training on new technology areas… those students are hot commodities,” Mok says. “If you truly want to build your brand, you want people to know how you are using digital technologies in your particular industry.”

Dropping knowledge, via business intelligence

One way Textron is doing this is by working with university professors to advance coursework. To assist an SAP Predictive Analytics class at Notre Dame this fall, she directed Matthew Cordner, Textron director of global ERP and business intelligence, to share some of the “real-world data” the company generated from an initiative to reduce costs by consolidating product shipments. Sharing data fosters goodwill with the university leaders and gives students a glimpse of the analytics projects Textron has conducted.

[ Related: How unconscious bias impacts IT recruiting and hiring ]

That is crucial because many STEM students don’t get business technology challenges including real corporate data to work on while they’re still in school, Mok says. Getting that practical experience early on will not only benefit the future candidate, but potentially provide Textron a more stable supply of talent. “It can get the students to really know more about your company early on.”

Some CIOs, such as Choice Hotels International’s Todd Davis, prefer to invite people to come to them. Seeking new talent in mobile application development, analytics and other areas, Davis hosted a job fair at a Choice Hotel locations in Arizona in April. Emboldened by billion-dollar budgets, financial services firms such as American Express and BNY Mellon have established innovation centers in Silicon Valley to battle Google, Facebook and the long-tail of startups on their home turf.

However, that’s a battle Textron can’t win. It lacks the budget and scale to build an innovation center, let alone pay top dollar for seasoned talent for every position. That is why its executives are tapping universities, which she hopes will help her hire 50 new IT workers from across the U.S. every year. That will help infuse the company with fresh blood and replace employees lost via attrition. She estimates she’s hired as many as five recruits out of Notre Dame since she’s began recruiting at Textron. “We’re always recruiting,” she says. “It is an absolute war for talent out there.”

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