Monday, February 28, 2011

As "Offshoring" Loses Popularity and "Onshoring" Trends, Am I Crazy to Propose "Urbansourcing"?

It seems corporations have started to recognize over the past decade that outsourcing American jobs to foreign labor pools is not the money-saving no-brainer it originally seemed to be.

A few years back, Stephanie Overby at went to great detail to show how businesses, in their rush to save money, probably overlooked or didn’t anticipate many “hidden costs” of outsourcing (aka "offshoring").

Specifically, she details the costs and challenges that pop up when working with colleagues half a world away. For instance, there are hassles related to managing foreign workers; never-ending travel expenses in all directions; the costs of transitioning technology, architecture, and knowledge while operations continue at home; the emotional and financial costs of layoffs and retention bonuses; the time it takes to adjust to different cultures (laws, business practices, ethics, and communication challenges); delays and problems that need to be addressed from many time-zones away; new quality assurance and testing needs… on and on. In the end, not many companies succeeded in saving gobs of money, and many have refocused on the home front in their ongoing search for new ways to save on labor costs.

This all reminded me of a question I've had from time to time while working on this Mapping For Justice project; a question that I’ve posed before to different community leaders, mentoring leaders… friends and family who dabble with economics… and even complete strangers on a couple occasions:

Why couldn’t some corporate mastermind find a way to cut labor costs by grooming “cheap” labor available right down the street, right here in our city?

Last I looked there were a lot of people who could probably use a minimum-wage gig, and if the “hidden costs” of offshoring the labor make it somewhat of a wash, are companies currently looking to develop our students right here in our backyard, to take on some menial jobs like customer service? I know as a Chicagoan, I’d rather talk with someone who knew my city, my culture, and the nuances of my problems, while feeling good that companies were putting money into the pockets of local consumers, which in turn helps our struggling local economy instead of, say, India’s.

Or Arkansas’s.

Now that companies are coming back to the United States to replenish their staffs, CNN reports that “some companies are starting to eye job-hungry areas of the country as prime candidates for the kind of outsourced work that once would have gone overseas.”

“Ruralsourcing” or “onshoring,” the story tells us, “recruits workers from minimum-wage jobs and gives them intensive training in IT specialties.” Mentoring in rural America!

If this is any indication, it seems companies aren't thinking solely about "menial" jobs when looking at places in the United States to develop workers from "minimum-wage" skill sets.

And really, why should they set their sights low? I have worked with some CPS high school students like Sean at Cabrini Connections tutor/mentor program’s Tech Club (a club where students from Chicago’s notorious Cabrini Green neighborhood meet each week to learn marketable tech skills), who are perfectly capable of rising to any challenge I have faced in the corporate sector.

Socially-responsible and forward-thinking companies would be foolish to look thousands of miles beyond the Seans living right down their road.

In 2005, Russ Finney wrote an article in which he observed that “companies must keep a talent base close to home to remain innovative. Educational institutions still need to meet the emerging requirements for skilled entry-level IT talent.”

He continued, “already companies are preparing to refill their downturn diminished entry labor pool with a new wave of IT recruits. These companies need to get the word out to ensure an adequate supply of graduates.”

Some companies aren't focusing their recruiting efforts on Ivy League schools either. Indeed, The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has been frequenting community and 4-year colleges because they want “to encourage more 20-somethings to get a post-high school degree or certificate before starting a family … The foundation's overall higher education goal is to double the number of low-income adults who get a degree or certificate beyond high school by age 26.”

Why is this important to Mr. and Mrs. Gates' philanthropy?

While the press releases and reports focus on social and charitable benefits, I can’t imagine that Microsoft hasn’t recognized the potential shared value that would come from increasing the number of students who move from every walk of life into college and onto career, and in turn increase the number of Seans who have a need for (and a way to pay for) new computers and occasional MS operating system upgrades.

In the end, of course, business has a choice in how they want to invest in their human resources. By no means, as an IT professional do I love the fact corporations have looked into solutions like outsourcing to save costs, and in turn crippling the purchasing power of and confidence of many qualified American workers, even as the cost of living in a city like Chicago shows no signs of slowing down.

The more I read and the more I think about it, though, I can’t help but believe there are creative solutions out there, rooted in simultaneously solving our economic, workforce development, and education crises, all while creating long-term shared value for some brilliant business mind.

Maybe I'm crazy to pitch “urbansourcing” and a support-system that includes a closer look at tutoring/mentoring?

Or maybe it's the next big trend.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Where Each Chicago Mayor Candidate Stands on Education and Mentoring

"Government can’t do everything you want it to do. ... That’s why you have partnerships with non-for-profits and profit organizations." – Mayor Richard M. Daley, 2/9/2011

Chicago’s voters will choose a new mayor for the first time in over 20 years this coming week. I found surveys online that puts each candidate’s ideas about education in their own words.

If you live here, you probably don't need my maps to tell you that Chicago is dealing with a crisis of poor school/student performance. In fact, I can't personally remember the last time I saw a news story that framed Chicago's public schools in a light that didn't include failing, closing, mismanagement or crime.

Against this backdrop, I have written a lot of articles for Mapping For Justice that supplement the ongoing negative news with stories of hope, showing cases where tutor/mentor programs are helping some of these communities, and advocating for leadership to build tutor/mentor support in areas where our kids need as much help as possible.

I have also come to believe, based on my research, that poorly-prepared students become poorly-prepared adults and eventually becomes a taxpayer burden for everyone. For this reason, I feel this is an issue voters should not ignore when choosing Chicago's next leader.

Recently, Cabrini Connections program leader Dan Bassill wrote, "I wish voters in Chicago were holding the Mayor and other elected officials accountable for what they do to improve student learning ... voters and leaders need to do their own homework to know more about the poverty gap, and why it is a critical issue that affects all of us, not just the poor."

So with that said, my intention today is NOT to endorse a particular candidate. Instead it is to share the links to the education surveys I just read, so you too can take a look at each candidate's proposed plan - in their own words. So we can do our homework.

I've listed the candidates in alphabetical order, and highlighted moments in the surveys that I feel might relate on some level to tutoring/mentoring (the theme to my maps). Oh and of course, I've added a few maps. Click on these to see how maps make elected leaders more effective!

Carol Moselely Braun

* Read her full survey here.
* Read a recent MFJ article that features Braun here.

Braun reminds us of her support as Senator for "Midnight Basketball programs, which brought local youth together with local police officers." This is as close as she gets to discussing tutoring/mentoring programs.

Much of her plan focuses on what she believes needs to happen in the schools. For instance, she calls for an expanded curriculum that includes courses students find attractive, to can keep them from dropping out. She also wants to add vocational training to the curriculum, to "provide students with the skills to be more competitive in the workforce and less likely to join gangs."

It makes sense that the majority of a candidate's policy would be focused on the schools. After all that's where the students get the bulk of their academic and social training. However, I wonder if these candidates have looked into using non-school mentoring programs that could give a boost to their efforts to keep students in school, on a path toward the workforce, and away from gangs.

Braun does suggest that her administration "will coordinate social services to meet such needs that transcend teachers' ability to resolve, such as homelessness, hunger, poverty and traumatic home environments," so maybe the connection will eventually happen.


Gery Chico

* Read his full survey here.
* Read a recent MFJ article that features Chico here.

Chico regrets that the afterschool programs he accomplished as President of the Board of Education "have been scaled back and in some cases, eliminated." These programs "gave nearly 200,000 CPS students alternative and constructive things to do."

Indeed, the city budget is a mess, so I hope when he suggests that "by partnering with community organizations ... we can leverage resources to reduce costs," he's aware that there is an existing network of tutor/mentor programs Tutor/Mentor Connection (T/MC) has in their directory that are also currently giving CPS students "constructive things to do."


Miguel Del Valle

* Read his full survey here.

A former CPS student, with a community organizing background, Del Valle says, "I am inspired by efforts where neighbors, churches, and other partners work together to ensure the safety of our children. I will encourage and support all such programs in conjunction with parents and neighbors [and] non-profit organizations..."

Del Valle has strong ideas about how to "provide youth with [at-school] opportunities to engage in positive activities and contribute to community life through after school programming." In fact, he seems to provide the most detail in his survey, regarding specific education policy goals, proposed programs, and developed ideas about where the money will come from (taxes, TIF funds, and private sector alliances included).

He also seems, looking at the surveys, to have the best-developed plans for what to do with kids in non-school situations, proposing "an expanded program called 'Community Learning Centers' to create extended day learning opportunities that may include technology clubs, the arts, sports, tutoring, and specialized programs for students. This would be done by creating partnerships among the private sector, nonprofit organizations, and schools."

Del Valle echoes the hopes of the tutor/mentor community when he states that, "it is imperative to promote and help bring to scale programs that intervene and bring corrective action to get youth back on a productive path rather than simply emphasizing punitive measures that lead down a path to nowhere."


Rahm Emanuel

* Read his full survey here.

Much of Emanuel's platform seems to focus on programs that will happen at the school. He "calls for comprehensive after-school programs ... integrating child intervention programs across departments." He calls this win-win for the students, citing after-school programs' abilities to "both increase academic progress and reduce violence. He seeks funding through "school partnerships with local businesses and non-profit organizations that want to target specific schools."

Perhaps he too is aware of the existing network of non-profit tutor/mentor programs available to partner with the city and support student development when the students are away from school. T/MC can even map which resources are available near the "specific schools" he wants to target.

After all, Emanuel does want to "incent community based organizations, citywide non-profits, universities, commercial companies and other civic institutions to bring their people and programs to bear to support particular struggling schools by providing mentors, tutors, job training, access to college courses, and in classroom support to schools that need it most."


William Doc Walls

* Read his full survey here.

On a personal note (as map geek), I'm fascinated by Walls' interest in "increasing the use of Crime mapping and data analysis" to help combat crime in high poverty neighborhoods.

But staying on topic, and looking for indications that Walls intends to incorporate tutoring/mentoring into his plans to support for at-risk students, Walls does say that he "will provide tutoring, social skill development and increased recreational activities in an effort to achieve normal educational accomplishments in chronically low-performing schools."

He does not go into great detail about how this will happen, yet I am hopeful he supports existing programs in his community - he does offer some genuine opinions and somewhat creative/alternative solutions to problems his community faces.


Virginia Van Pelt Watkins

* Read her full survey here

An alumnus of Fenger High School with an intimate understanding of the challenges and hazards at-risk students like Fenger's Derrion Albert face, Watkins outlines her ideas for school leadership, curriculum, quality schools, and teacher mentoring.

Particular to student tutoring/mentoring, she wants to "champion for early child education" and promises to "remove barriers families experience in accessing existing early childhood education programs and services."

She also touches briefly on "peer-to-peer mentoring programs that are developed with and supported by youth" but does not mention partnerships with existing adult-student tutor/mentor programs specifically.

Remember! Polls open at 6am this Tuesday, February 22!

Find your polling place and other information about the election here.

And let's make sure whoever wins keeps their promises, and explores all resources available to improve the health of our schools and the prospects for our students.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Sponsoring Dragons To Assist Youth Programs

Occasionally, Mapping for Justice gets a chance to get out of the cubicle and work with kids in the tutor/mentor programs I write about.

This month, Mapping For Justice has decided to support a team of students in the Cabrini Madness tournament – a yearly fundraising “tourney” that brings together "teams" of students, volunteers, program staffers, and outside leadership like you.

The tournament helps teach students to advocate/compete for themselves, while helping the Cabrini Connections program raise a few bucks (which is vital for a non-profit to continue pairing adult mentors with youth from all over Chicago) - all while having a little fun. Check out the tourney website.

So this Cabrini Madness season, Mapping For Justice has decided to support and help promote... drum roll...

Team 5Ds (aka The 5 Dragons), captained by an amazingly talented young man, Charles Hill, with lots of help from other bright Chicago Public Schools (CPS) students, Sean Mayfield and Erin Smith.

Every small donation you make with me, and every time you pass this article to friends and colleagues, we help support student efforts to support themselves, while raising awareness about the virtues of these programs - programs that not only help each student, but in turn help society, and help you and me as taxpayers.

Additionally, 10% of your donation will go to Cabrini Connections Tech Club, a weekly club that teaches tech-related volcational skills to a group of students who want a little extra help on their way from the CPS to college and career.

Meet the students captaining this effort:
Charles Hill
Sean Mayfield
Erin Smith (profile coming soon)

Please consider helping Mapping For Justice help Team 5Ds by making a small tax-deductible donation here.

Wish us luck, and please check in occasionally to find continued tourney updates here.