Business & Finance
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3/13/2008
05:45 PM
Rob Preston
Rob Preston
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Down To Business: Are You A Complainer Or Part Of The Solution?

Whichever position you hold on the IT labor shortage--whether it exists or it doesn't -- there are two ways you can approach this critical issue.

InformationWeek has devoted much coverage to the so-called IT labor shortage, a subject of contention among many readers. One of our magazine cover packages in January featured a point-counterpoint on the issue by two prominent academics, and it's a recurring theme in our print and online reporting, igniting a range of reader comments.

Whichever position you hold--IT labor shortage or no shortage--there are two ways you can approach this critical issue: Cry woe is me/us and assign blame; or take steps to improve your lot, or the lot of your colleagues and company, within the framework of business realities.

The woe-is-me lament wears thin fast. Employers complain that caps on H-1B and other work visas and neglect of the U.S. educational system are draining the domestic tech talent pool, forcing them to move more work offshore. Employees complain that lax visa, immigration, and free trade policies, exploited by greedy businesses, are stacking the deck against their careers and undermining America's technology competitiveness.

To be fair, both camps have legitimate beefs. The business world is far from perfect, and government and academic institutions are generally a step behind the times. But at some point, employers and employees alike must focus on solutions that are within their grasp.

Instead of complaining about how policy-makers or educators or captains of industry are letting them down, it's time for individuals to take matters into their own hands. Make a difference rather than just raise a stink.

One such doer is Roy Lawson, president of a small central Florida chapter of INETA, a .Net user and developer group. Independent of his association work, Lawson, a self-described IT activist, is an ardent critic of expanding the H-1B visa program and other practices. But when push comes to shove, he focuses most of his energy on matters more within his control, like training, career development, and networking for the INETA chapter's 80 or so members. His chapter meetings are constructive; they're not bitch sessions. And they're apolitical--everyone is welcome, Lawson says, no matter their citizen status.

In response to one local employer's ad on Dice.com seeking H-1B tech workers in the Tampa area, Lawson recently sent an e-mail, sans acrimony, offering to connect the company with chapter members and their associates--to which he received a positive reply. "I don't do this for the money," he says. "I just love to develop world-class software--and there are many others like me. ... I'm in this fight for our profession because I love what I do, and I think it is important to our future that Americans do IT well."

There's no arguing with that approach. It will be interesting to see if this Tampa area employer, coming at the talent shortage issue with a different perspective, is really serious about finding skilled tech workers or is just fishing for cheap labor.

In the broad scheme of things, if you're a tech employer having trouble finding good people, ask yourself these questions before you point fingers at others: Are you training and cultivating the technology professionals you now have? Are you providing them with a clear career path? Are your recruiters IT savvy--do they know where to look and have the chops to evaluate talent? Are you reaching out to professional associations and schools? Are you truly committed to IT as a competitive advantage?

If you're a tech employee having trouble advancing your career, you're not off the hook either. Are you keeping current on technologies and best practices? Do you understand--really understand--what matters to a business and approach your technical work with a business mind-set? Do you work on your communications skills? Do you network like mad?

If yes, then you're already a step ahead of the pack, labor shortage or not.

Rob Preston,
VP and Editor in Chief
rpreston@techweb.com

To find out more about Rob Preston, please visit his page.

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