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Home-schooling IT talent

By Mary Brandel
January 27, 2003 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - Memphis has long served as home base to technology innovator and shipping giant FedEx Corp. This fall, the city hopes to become a hotbed of leading-edge technology research and learning, when the four-story, $23 million FedEx Technology Institute opens at the University of Memphis.
The vision is for the center, which was pioneered and partially funded by FedEx, to become "the digital epicenter of the Mid-South," says Jim Phillips, chairman and executive director of the institute. On-campus students, professors and scientists, as well as researchers and business executives inside and outside of FedEx, will gain access to "mind-blowing technologies with unbelievable applications in an infinite number of areas," he says.
A very distinct benefit for FedEx is that the institute will increase and sharpen the skills of the local IT talent pool, and it will produce graduates right in Memphis who have training and experience that jibe with FedEx's needs. But Phillips is quick to point out that the new center isn't just an adjunct FedEx training facility, nor does FedEx control its research efforts.
However, he says, the institute will absolutely attract more students interested in IT to the University of Memphis, which will help FedEx and other companies fulfill their IT needs. The hope is that the training might even attract new business to Memphis. "Absolutely, I can see some really interesting and relevant centers of technology inside the FedEx Institute that relate to FedEx missions," Phillips says.
At the institute's Center for Next Generation Transportation, for instance, "we're working to create an invisible plasma on the wing surfaces of airplanes to drive fuel costs down by as much as half," Phillips says. "And in trucking, we're working on a unit that plugs into the truck cab that will help save billions on diesel fuel."
Beneficial Partnerships
In this climate of layoffs and few new jobs, particularly at the entry level, many large employers are opting out of campus recruiting this year (see story). But a few forward-thinking companies are seeing the wisdom of working with area universities and community colleges to turn their regions into hubs for IT activity. The benefits are plentiful, these companies say: The talent, in effect, comes to you, lowering recruiting costs; you can home-grow talent in lifelong local residents, who tend to be long-term employees; and you can influence school curricula to meet your IT needs.
"The majority of companies are not doing what they need to do to develop skills proactively," says Maria Schafer, an analyst at Meta Group Inc. "When things do pick up, they'll be scrambling



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