On 24-25 September, for the first time in the Baltic region, Vilnius and Kaunas hosted the forum “Developing Talents for Innovation-based Economies.” Here representatives of the business and academic communities from Lithuania and around the world discussed how to encourage talent development, improve the quality of studies, expand innovation and strengthen collaboration between business and universities.
Delivering a Key Note address at the conference titled “Discovering and raising the ‘talent generation’ in Europe” was Van Williams, CIO and Chief of Produce Engineering at US cloud engineering giant Virtustream. In an interview before the event, Mr Williams explained why he believes innovative employees are a company’s biggest asset and what makes Lithuania a good fit for a company like Virtustream.
[quote text=”The story of our involvement with Lithuania started several years ago. Your country was introduced to us a reliable location with a good reputation, one which it has certainly lived up to” name_surname=”Van Williams” description=”CIO and Chief of Produce Engineering at Virtustream” left=””]
– You manage Virtustream’s expansion centres in the USA, India and Lithuania. What attracted a large international company like yours to a small country in the Baltics?
– The story of our involvement with Lithuania started several years ago. Your country was introduced to us a reliable location with a good reputation, one which it has certainly lived up to.
We have found a business expansion culture here that is an excellent fit with our teams working in the USA. The number of universities and the focus on ongoing education and training has created a strong and technically experienced work force in Lithuania. In fact, it is just the one we were looking for. Honestly speaking, our office in Kaunas has a real “Silicon Valley startup” feel to it. Of course, Invest Lithuania has contributed a lot to our arrival.
– You have over 25 years of experience in the business of innovative technologies. How does business benefit from innovations and inventions generated in universities?
– One of the greatest challenges facing business and academia is how to stay current and relevant.
The pace of change is increasing exponentially – we have many revolutionary inventions and even large corporations are not always able to keep up with this progress. This means that we are in constant need of new ideas, fresh perspectives, creative thinking and new research. This can only be achieved through stronger partnerships between the business and academic communities.
– Business needs new talents, the majority of whom are ‘hiding’ in universities. How does your team discover them? What is the best way to do this and when – is it best to discover them during their studies or after graduation?
– We should collectively be discovering talent and the earlier the better, even before university entry. For instance, we are investing in a robotics programme at a school in Kaunas. Some pupils are already showing their talents in software development and logic.
Business must invest in such pupils today – we must encourage them and develop their talent. Last year we had 8 trainees from Kaunas University of Technology ranging from freshmen to seniors. This was a fantastic experience both for them and for us.
What we lack today is a partnership-based system between universities and business as to how to identify, train and develop talents. One of the main things I regularly hear from trainees is that they would like the opportunity to work for several companies in order to gain a range of experience during their career, which would help prepare them for any type of work.
– Research has shown that the gap in cooperation between business and universities is becoming wider globally. What could we do to stop this problem? What is the role of governments in this process?
– The widening gap is indeed symptomatic of the difference in goals between the business and academic communities. Or more precisely, from the belief that these goals should be different.
Business seeks to maximise profits and return on investment. In this situation, any university of technology would say that their mission is “to provide research-based studies of an international standard, and to create and transfer knowledge and innovative technologies”.
Although they sound different, I would suggest bringing them closer to each other. This should happen when the business community fully realises that their employees are their single most critical investment. They are a company’s number one asset, and finding talented, smart, and educated employees who are life-long learners should be the main focus of their human capital strategy.
In addition, once business has tasted the fruits of a meaningful strategic relationship with the university community, the latter will be able to build a strong network of talented students ready to fill key jobs in business. Only these students will be able to perform research and continue developing products in the fields important for business. They will prevent business becoming isolated and will close the gap between the business and academic communities.
There is nothing that breeds success like success.
– In other words, there is a link between innovations and the prosperity of a country.
– Innovation is the currency of today’s informational economy. It doesn’t matter how large the country is. If it develops specific capabilities for innovation, it will be able to create added value and benefits for its residents.
This applies both to developed and developing countries. Let’s compare the size of the robotics industry globally. You might think that the USA or Germany is in the lead, but a true leader is South Korea. It has more robots per 10,000 employees than either of these two economic super powers.
Innovation can flourish and grow where there is need, vision and a favourable climate for it. In a recent World Bank publication, Scientists who had studied 120 companies over the period 1980 to 2006 showed that, with every 10% increase in broadband penetration, 1.3 per cent was added to a country’s gross domestic product. In this way low and middle-income countries have added 1.21 per cent to their GDP. That’s what I mean by creating a favourable climate for innovation.
More information about the forum is available at: www.ubforum-lithuania.eu.
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