Strategic CIO // Team Building & Staffing
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3/6/2013
06:16 PM
Thomas Claburn
Thomas Claburn
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IT Talent Shortage Or Purple Squirrel Hunt?

Employers press for H-1B increases, while job hunters say searches seem designed to rule out U.S. workers. Is there really an IT talent shortage??

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There either is or isn't a technical talent shortage in the U.S. To hear corporate leaders tell it, America's woeful inability to educate enough students in science, technology, engineering and math has left U.S. companies with a dangerously shallow talent pool.

Arguably, this shortage is at least partially the result of past outsourcing, which has been discouraging U.S. students from pursuing IT careers.

Among the solutions advocated by the management class is expansion of the H-1B visa program, which aims "to help employers who cannot otherwise obtain needed business skills and abilities from the U.S. workforce by authorizing the temporary employment of qualified individuals who are not otherwise authorized to work in the United States," as the U.S. Department of Labor puts it.

[ Can the two sides ever agree on this issue? Read Immigration Reform: Find The Middle Ground. ]

Tech companies insist they cannot hire the talent they need. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said as much last week in a statement on Code.org. And Laszlo Bock, SVP of people operations at Google, said this in a statement in January: "[A]t a time when the U.S. economy needs it most, our immigration policies are stifling innovation. The 2013 cap for the H-1B visas that allow foreign high skilled talent to work temporarily in the U.S. was exhausted by June 2012, preventing tech companies from recruiting some of the world's brightest minds."

The recently introduced Immigration Innovation Act of 2013 intends to raise the H-1B visa cap, among other immigration law changes.

But a talent shortage might just be another way of describing an unwillingness to pay market rates for talent. As Peter Cappelli, professor of management and director of the Center for Human Resources at the Wharton School, put it in The Wall Street Journal back in October, 2011, "Some of the complaints about skill shortages boil down to the fact that employers can't get candidates to accept jobs at the wages offered. That's an affordability problem, not a skill shortage."

Although the record high set this week by the Dow Jones Industrial Average suggests a return of economic optimism, the U.S. unemployment rate is still not low enough to prevent jobs seekers in the U.S. -- particularly those trained in technical skills -- from resenting the fact that employers are looking to hire people from outside the country.

Norman Matloff, professor of computer science at the University of California in Davis, contends that foreign IT workers are popular with companies because they are de facto indentured servants. Foreign workers do not have the same rights as U.S. workers: For example, if they're being sponsored for a green card, they cannot quit and seek work at another company without resetting the green card process.

Foreign workers brought to the U.S. under these restrictions are participating in a form of human trafficking. Instead of sexual bondage, it's intellectual restraint.

Keeping workers from accepting better offers elsewhere is hugely important to technology companies, because the departure of key personnel from a project can set the project back months or more.

"If you have this urgent project going on in your company, you don't want an engineer to leave you in the lurch by going to another company," said Matloff in a phone interview. "With an American employee, there's no way to stop that. With a foreign employee, if he or she is sponsored for a green card, he or she is basically stuck."

Shackling technical talent is so important that Adobe Systems, Apple, Google, Intel, Intuit and Pixar had agreements for several years not to hire employees away from one another, until the U.S. Department of Justice forced the companies to stop with the threat of an antitrust lawsuit. The department didn't manage, however, to get any of those companies to admit to wrongdoing.

Testifying earlier this week on behalf of IEEE-USA, a group representing more than 200,000 technical professionals and students, Bruce Morrison told a Congressional immigration policy subcommittee that the talent needs of U.S. companies would be better served by deregulating the process by which employers sponsor new hires for permanent residency. This would allow foreign workers to participate in the talent market on a more equitable basis.

"If an employer is willing to pay a substantial fee to sponsor a skilled foreign worker for a green card -- which means he or she can quit if they are underpaid -- that is solid evidence the employer actually needs the worker's skills," he said in prepared remarks. "But if an employer is only willing to pay a fee for a worker who cannot quit without going back to the beginning of the green card process, that indicates the employer is more interested in the indentured character of the visa, than in the worker's skills."

Beyond the objection to treating foreign workers as indentured servants, critics of the H-1B program see it as an enabler of age discrimination.

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vbierschwale
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vbierschwale,
User Rank: Strategist
3/7/2013 | 4:30:02 PM
re: IT Talent Shortage Or Purple Squirrel Hunt?
There is one way to stop all of this nonsense and Keep America At Work

Tell your story on this page.

http://keepamericaatwork.com/a...

When millions have told similar stories, corporations and political representatives will no longer be able to hide from the truth.
$28018109
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$28018109,
User Rank: Apprentice
3/7/2013 | 4:32:48 PM
re: IT Talent Shortage Or Purple Squirrel Hunt?

The record high set this week by the Dow Jones Industrial Average means that Most Corporations And Their Largest Stockholders are doing well: it speaks nothing of the employment opportunities for American IT professionals and for other American workers. The assumption that the stock market is a leading indicator of U.S. employment trends is an outdated assumption.

The solution to fixing the H-1B visa is not to fix it at all but rather to replace it with an auction-based system backed up with workplace enforcement and E-Verify. The Programmers Guild has advocated this type of thing in the past. The Hamilton Project is advocating this type of thing now. The Hamilton Project is a policy organization that includes the following members among many others:
Robert E. Rubin, Former U.S. Treasury Secretary
Richard Gephardt, former Congressman
Laura Tyson, the President's National Economic Adviser (1995 G 1996)
Eric Schmidt, Executive Chairman, Google Inc.

Very recent paper:
"Overhauling the Temporary Work Visa System"
http://www.hamiltonproject.org...

"The proposed system uses market-based auctions to allocate temporary permits that allow employers to hire foreign workers. An employer who purchases a permit effectively purchases the right to hire a foreign worker for a specified period. The foreign worker selected for that job, in turn, receives a temporary worker visa after passing a background check, and will be fully mobile across employers who own permits. The employer can resell the permit in a secondary market if the foreign worker leaves that job. These auctions would first be implemented to replace the current H-1B, H-2A, and H-2B visa programs, and would ultimately replace most of the current temporary employment-based immigration system. To succeed, the auctions need to be accompanied by increased workplace enforcement, such as mandating that all employers use E-Verify."

$28018109
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$28018109,
User Rank: Apprentice
3/7/2013 | 4:40:00 PM
re: IT Talent Shortage Or Purple Squirrel Hunt?

The record high set this week by the Dow Jones Industrial Average means that Most Corporations And Their Largest Stockholders are doing well: it speaks nothing of the employment opportunities for American IT professionals and for other American workers. The assumption that the stock market is a leading indicator of U.S. employment trends is an outdated assumption.

The solution to fixing the H-1B visa is not to fix it at all but rather to replace it with an auction-based system backed up with workplace enforcement and E-Verify. The Programmers Guild has advocated this type of thing in the past. The Hamilton Project is advocating this kind of thing now. The Hamilton Project is a policy organization that includes the following members among many others:
Robert E. Rubin, Former U.S. Treasury Secretary
Richard Gephardt, former Congressman
Laura Tyson, the President's National Economic Adviser (1995 G 1996)
Eric Schmidt, Executive Chairman, Google Inc.

Very recent paper:
"Overhauling the Temporary Work Visa System"

"The proposed system uses market-based auctions to allocate temporary permits that allow employers to hire foreign workers. An employer who purchases a permit effectively purchases the right to hire a foreign worker for a specified period. The foreign worker selected for that job, in turn, receives a temporary worker visa after passing a background check, and will be fully mobile across employers who own permits. The employer can resell the permit in a secondary market if the foreign worker leaves that job. These auctions would first be implemented to replace the current H-1B, H-2A, and H-2B visa programs, and would ultimately replace most of the current temporary employment-based immigration system. To succeed, the auctions need to be accompanied by increased workplace enforcement, such as mandating that all employers use E-Verify."

Melanie Rodier
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Melanie Rodier,
User Rank: Apprentice
3/7/2013 | 5:46:31 PM
re: IT Talent Shortage Or Purple Squirrel Hunt?
That's unbelievable that Adobe Systems, Apple, Google, Intel, Intuit and Pixar had agreements not to hire employees away from one another. How unfair from an employee's point of view. I can understand not allowing a major competitor to poach for six months or another period of time, but this sounds completely over the top and putting a major roadblock on an employee's career path.
SAuge
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SAuge,
User Rank: Apprentice
3/7/2013 | 5:52:28 PM
re: IT Talent Shortage Or Purple Squirrel Hunt?
Eh. Just don't plan on IT or programming as a viable career anymore. If it isn't the H-1Bs, it's the off-shoring.
bdonley225
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bdonley225,
User Rank: Apprentice
3/7/2013 | 6:07:54 PM
re: IT Talent Shortage Or Purple Squirrel Hunt?
Salaries are based on demand. Right now the IT shortage, which does exist, has caused salaries to be unreasonably high (supply and demand). A programmer can make six figures just a few years out of school. That is unsustainable! There is a reason that the majority of IT projects fail. Lack of SKILLED IT professionals. People are forced to pay unrealistic rates to less-than-adequate developers.

I highly suggest the author do more research or outsource the work to someone that knows what they are talking about.
$28018109
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$28018109,
User Rank: Apprentice
3/7/2013 | 6:11:38 PM
re: IT Talent Shortage Or Purple Squirrel Hunt?
These companies cannot be trusted to regulate themselves, and their claims regarding workers, visas, offshoring, and other matters cannot be trusted without verification. This has been proven out many times. Even within the past few days the European Union fined Microsoft $733 million for breaking a legal commitment to offer personal computer users a choice of Internet browsers when they install the Windows operating system. The EU Commission's top competition regulator, Joaquin Almunia, conceded that the Commission had been "naive" in appointing Microsoft itself to oversee compliance with the agreement, and said the Commission wonGt allow that in the future.
Mark532010
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Mark532010,
User Rank: Strategist
3/7/2013 | 6:12:32 PM
re: IT Talent Shortage Or Purple Squirrel Hunt?
I like how the beginning of the article companies complain, "Tech companies insist they cannot hire the talent they need" and then on this page they complain, "human resources departments need some way of filtering the deluge of resumes they receive." - as you state, its not a problem of finding the talent, they just don't want to pay.

As someone who has 33 years computer experience (I started with 4.7mhz IBM-PC's with cassette drives) I was astonished at how uninterested companies were with my experience when I started a job search and how low the salaries were.
elleno
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elleno,
User Rank: Apprentice
3/7/2013 | 6:16:59 PM
re: IT Talent Shortage Or Purple Squirrel Hunt?
H1-B visas are one of the biggest scams going in the US. Here is how it works:

1. Claim you need a specific IT skill set - the more obscure the better.
2. Carry out a perfunctory search in the US, but unfortunately the skill is not available.
3. Use the above facts to justify the need and apply for H1-B visas
4. Eventually when the Indian recruits arrive, well the initial need is no longer there...., but nobody who is at the political / legal level understands that. (Or, indeed whether the initial demand really ever existed.)

And voila! New cheap coders appear.

As someone who has worked with many IT companies, lived in Koramangla, Bangalore while recruiting technical staff for the US and watched the above scenario play out over and over I can assure you it is all too real. American software companies complain about a situation they themselves created.

No wonder US business is so hated. They shaft American workers, undercut IT pay in the US and bring in foreign workers simply to (arguably) save a few dollars year after year.

(An equally egregious situation exists in US universities. Half of technical post-grads are non-American. Bursaries and scholarships are extensively available for them. For Americans, not so much. Unless Americans have suffered a mysterious decline in intelligence in the last few years there is clearly something else at play here.)

I should add that I am not American. Just someone who watches with fascination as a previously successful country economically damages itself and its citizens by crazy misguided policies: a poisonous combination of political correctness, political ineptness and greed.
Laurianne
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Laurianne,
User Rank: Author
3/7/2013 | 6:39:45 PM
re: IT Talent Shortage Or Purple Squirrel Hunt?
I find the program manager interview anecdote quite instructive. It speaks volumes about this process.

Also, at the end of the day, it can be hard to tell when you have invested too much time in a job search that is going nowhere. As the New York Times reported Wednesday, the job interview process, across a variety of industries, is taking longer than it used to. Then often, the position gets yanked, doesn't get filled at all, then gets reposted, and the interview process starts again.

I bet many IT pros reading this have had that experience.

Laurianne McLaughlin
InformationWeek

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