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Infosys to test Connecticut's tech talent pipeline

BY Matt Pilon

4/2/2018
Photos | Contributed
Photos | Contributed
Gov. Dannel P. Malloy at a press conference last month announcing that Infosys plans to hire 1,000 workers for its new Hartford hub. Beside him (left) is DECD Commissioner Catherine Smith and (right) Mayor Luke Bronin, Hartford HealthCare's Elliot Joseph, Infosys President Ravi Kumar, Cigna's Mark Boxer and State Rep. Matt Ritter.
State officials and employers alike cheered last month as Indian IT giant Infosys announced plans to hire 1,000 information technology employees in Hartford by 2022.

But given that local companies often complain of a tech skills gap being a hurdle to hiring, can Connecticut provide enough talent?

Bruce Carlson, CEO of the Connecticut Technology Council, which among other things helps employers connect with tech students, said it's a question worth asking.

It wasn't long ago that both General Electric and Aetna both stated their desires to move their corporate headquarters out of Connecticut in search of larger tech talent pools in Boston and New York, respectively. (Aetna canned its planned move after announcing its pending merger with CVS Health.)

"For them to get 1,000 employees in a Hartford headquarters means they may have to cannibalize a lot of other companies that are here," said Carlson, who added that there's a lot of talent at state colleges and employers.

And it's not just Infosys that has an appetite for more workers, Carlson said. Norwalk IT firm Datto, for example, has also stated a need to ramp-up hiring of tech workers. Of course, a competitive market could benefit workers with those skill sets, but companies may be left wanting or having to raise salaries.

"It's important that we stand up and try to figure out how we can put the current (workforce) pipelines on steroids," Carlson said.

One problem some companies face in seeking tech talent, is finding candidates with four-year degrees and three to five years of experience. They are considered the "holy grail" of the tech workforce.

"I understand why you want that, but we need to give students a chance," Carlson said.

Infosys' stated intention to train community college grads and others in a months-long "finishing school" program may help ease any potential talent shortage, as would developing training programs with area colleges, like Infosys has done in connection with its North Carolina tech hub.

Meanwhile, two major Greater Hartford employers that helped court Infosys (and that operate in several of its key customer spaces) downplayed any concerns about the talent pipeline.

Executives at Hartford HealthCare and Cigna, which both have sizable IT staffs and a growing focus on apps and other tech offerings, say they aren't sweating a run on their IT teams.

"At the end of the day, students go where jobs are, and if we can create an economic environment where they will choose to go to colleges and universities, that tide will lift all ships," said Mark Boxer, global chief information officer at Cigna. "The more comers, the better, in my mind."

In fact, since Infosys' announcement, Boxer said he's already received several inquiries about the state from other tech companies, which he did not name. He calls that interest part of the halo effect.

Hartford HealthCare CEO Elliot Joseph shared similar sentiments.

"We don't think of it as a poaching situation," Joseph said. "We see it as a farm system."

Meantime, both Boxer and Joseph perceive plenty of potential benefits for their organizations, one of which pays for healthcare services while the other provides them.

Bloomfield-based Cigna already has a business relationship with Infosys that included an undisclosed number of Infosys contract employees working at Cigna locations.

"We've had a chance to kick the tires on their capabilities," Boxer said.

The relationship has led Cigna to hire some Infosys employees over the years.

Boxer said Infosys has broad expertise because it works across multiple industries and with multiple clients. Proximity is increasingly important for tech partners, because it fits into a rapid software development approach called "agile methodology," which Boxer says emphasizes in-person collaboration and frequent testing.

A stronger local presence also makes it easier for companies that use Infosys' services to boost manpower during times of high need and to draw it down during slower periods.

So, while nothing is guaranteed, Cigna's and Infosys' arrangement could expand.

"It's not a quid pro quo, but it helps them be (more) competitive when they bid with us for work," Boxer said.

Meantime, Hartford HealthCare has invested many millions of dollars into its electronic medical record system. It has also forged a new tech partnership with General Electric focused on radiology imaging, and has integrated a mobile app for patients using its expanding GoHealth urgent-care network.

"Health care as an industry is moving to digital in a very significant way," Joseph said.

He said Hartford HealthCare and Infosys have no existing business relationship, and he can't yet say whether or not that will change when the company builds out its presence in the Capital City.

At least for now, many of the direct benefits for Hartford HealthCare stem from the broader economic impact of Infosys' move.

"The reason I like it is primarily, if not solely, around the opportunity for economic development in the state," Joseph said. "That in and of itself is a remarkably important driver of the health of my organization."

If the state's budget is healthier because of a new business and its employees and the taxes they pay, it could mean hospitals like Joseph's, which have battled the state over its provider tax, see increased funding in the future.

"I assure you that is the central issue here," he said.

DECD: No outsourcing concerns

The Department of Economic and Community Development's offer of $14 million in incentives to entice Infosys to Hartford stands in contrast to a controversial situation just four years ago.

In 2013, several Connecticut politicians — including current House Speaker Joe Aresimowicz (D-Berlin) and U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal — publicly shredded an outsourcing deal involving Infosys and Eversource predecessor Northeast Utilities.

Approximately 200 IT workers lost their jobs after the merger of Northeast Utilities and NStar, with some — including one former employee who appeared on the TV program "60 Minutes" — reporting they had been required to train their lower-cost replacements, including those on H-1B visas, in exchange for a severance package.

DECD Commissioner Catherine Smith said Infosys plans to hire U.S. workers for its Hartford hub. She also said she has no concerns that there will be outsourcing activity, which could diminish the net economic value of the 1,000 jobs.

"I really don't think this is going to be people saying 'we're going to let go of 10 people and hire Infosys,' or 'we're going to outsource a whole department,' " Smith said.

The formal contract between Infosys and DECD is not yet complete, but Smith said she doesn't expect it to include a provision limiting H-1B labor.

"It really was not a central topic," Smith said. "We were sure from day one that the jobs being created were hiring American citizens and putting them to work in Connecticut."

Infosys declined to be interviewed for this story, saying it was in a quiet period leading up to its next earnings report. Smith said the biggest reason area employers want to see Infosys expand here is to strengthen the state's pool of tech workers.

"That's number one, they need more tech talent and they felt having Infosys here would help them attract that talent," Smith said.

The commissioner has experience with Infosys. In her previous job as an executive at ING, she visited the company's Bangalore headquarters in 2005. Though its business model has shifted since then, she said Infosys had a strong reputation among big companies, as it does now.

"These guys are incredibly good at training people," she said.

Cigna's Boxer sees Infosys' U.S. hiring move — and ramp-ups in hiring among some of its Indian peers in recent years — as part of an evolution aimed at meeting the demands of clients here. He says it's more about talent and depth than using low-cost labor.

"When these pure plays all started, the labor arbitrage was a strong motivator," Boxer said. "That's all gone by the wayside."