By David Goldman
While Americans struggle to finds jobs, some of the country's biggest companies insist they're struggling just as hard to find workers with the skills they need.
"We are interviewing 11 people to find one qualified candidate," AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson told CNNMoney. "It's stunning to me."
AT&T, which draws 90% of its revenue from the United States, says it's at a disadvantage compared to other global technology giants. It sees a growing talent gap between this nation and foreign countries, particularly in highly technical fields, but it doesn't have the option of outsourcing heavily.
"We have people putting fiber in trenches, building cell site and installing set-top boxes in homes," Stephenson said. "Those aren't the kind of jobs you can fill abroad."
AT&T's solution: A $350 million commitment to a program called "Aspire," which provides grants to schools, non-profit organizations and researchers for ventures aimed at increasing the country's high-school graduation rate.
AT&T says it has spent $100 million on the program over the past four years, but it recently scaled up its investment, pledging an additional $250 million in funding over the next five years.
There's irony to AT&T investing so heavily in developing its future workforce while its thinning its current roster. AT&T has 256,000 employees, almost than 10,000 fewer than it had a year ago.
But like its high-tech and telecom rivals, AT&T is weathering a sea change in its increasingly digital industry. As its classic landline business dies off and its wireless business grows, the company needs workers with a new set of technical skills.
That's where Aspire comes in. One of the venture's features is a job-shadowing program that has included more than 100,000 students so far. The program made it up to AT&T's top ranks, with Stephenson himself participating for a day.
Alex Elizardo, now a junior finance major at the University of Texas, remembers the spring day in 2008 when he followed AT&T's CEO around the telecom giant's Dallas headquarters.
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