The Few, the Proud, the Trained Technology Firms Use Boot Camps for Orientation
Schmitt, Anne, Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL)
Byline: Anne Schmitt Daily Herald Business Writer
CORRECTION/date 12-31-1998: Ken Florian's official title is president of Geneer Corp. in Des Plaines.
Day one at Geneer Corp. Boot camp starts when a fatigues-clad Cynthia Brinkley greets the 12 or so recruits with an order to stand at attention.
After the group shares a good laugh about Brinkley's surprise, the serious work begins: training the new employees in the culture and expectations of the Des Plaines-based software company.
The two-week regimen has elements of a traditional employee orientation program, but goes further to acquaint new employees with Geneer's processes and milieu, said Brinkley, Geneer's director of organizational development.
"The more everyone knows what we do, the better off we'll be," said Ken Florian, Geneer's chief people person.
The largest consulting companies have used boot camps for years. Now smaller technology companies like Geneer have started to embrace the concept, which has gained popularity in the last year or so, said Barry Lawrence, a spokesman for the Society of Human Resource Management.
With labor markets so tight, employers have had to fill positions with less experienced workers, Lawrence said. Companies say, "We can't find enough help and when we do get help in the door, it's often untested talent right out of college. ... We sometimes have to take rougher gems and polish them up a bit."
Those young recruits may lack finer business skills such as communications and leadership abilities, and an understanding of office politics, Lawrence said. Most boot camps provide a crash course in working with clients and co-workers to complete projects. Many include exercises that simulate real meetings with difficult or demanding clients.
"The goal is to acclimate them to the environment and to the culture, and to promote teamwork and to give them a feeling for what they're going to be in store for," said Jennifer Crewe, vice president for The Revere Group. The Deerfield-based technology consulting company sends college graduates and other less experienced workers through its twice-a-year boot camp program.
The military metaphor aptly describes the intense condensed learning and the sessions' emphasis on team building, say proponents, though they say the goal rarely is to produce a group of like-minded order takers who fit into a traditional hierarchy.
Indeed, corporate boot camps often are unstructured programs that look to the new employees themselves to plan activities and work together to find answers. …