Strategic CIO // Team Building & Staffing
Commentary
3/6/2013
06:16 PM
Thomas Claburn
Thomas Claburn
Commentary
Connect Directly
LinkedIn
Twitter
Google+
RSS
E-Mail
50%
50%

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??

This is not a simple issue, because age should not guarantee employment for the shiftless. As contributing editor Jonathan Feldman pointed out recently, "[T]here's a big difference between getting rid of people because they're old and shedding people who aren't cutting it. To put a finer point on the matter: Thoughtful cost control doesn't equate to age discrimination."

However, as Feldman also observes, it's difficult to prove age discrimination.

It's difficult to prove because companies are not transparent in the way they hire or fire. They need to become more so.

Companies demand transparency from prospective employees, who must reveal all sorts of information. But they are not forthcoming themselves about hiring requirements or decisions. How do outsiders know if a company exhausted its options before turning to a foreign hire? They don't.

One of the effects of this lack of transparency is that employees have no way to gauge whether a job posting represents a legitimate need or is a sham with "purple squirrel" requirements. A purple squirrel is something not found in nature, so job postings seeking purple squirrels are preordained to go unfilled.

A source I spoke with, who asked not to be named for fear of repercussions, recounted being invited to a major technology company to interview for a program management job. The person accepted the interview reluctantly, because the job wasn't a great fit. But the company seemed even less interested. It didn't provide the interviewee with any information about preparing for the interview or about who would be attending. The interviewer showed up 20 minutes late and no one had the interviewee's resume. My source said it was clear the company wasn't serious about the interview.

Such positions, the source suggested, often list purple squirrel requirements -- such as five years of experience with a three-year-old technology -- as a reflection of the fact that the job posting is there to satisfy the statutory requirement in the green card process to consider U.S. workers before hiring a cheaper foreign worker.

Matloff noted this practice is common, but stressed that it's a misperception that the H-1B program includes a requirement to consider Americans before hiring someone from abroad. "If there's a green card process going on, which does require looking for an American first, then purple squirrel requirements are common," he said.

Matloff said that not all purple squirrel requirements are intended to provide legal cover. Some of them, he said, are simply a reflection of the fact that human resources departments need some way of filtering the deluge of resumes they receive. However, he added, in some instances, excessively specific requirements reflect the actual skills of foreign employees who have already been hired.

"Immigration lawyers as a group, they have explicitly admitted all this," Matloff said. "They say the employer has already found the foreign national they want to hire, so it's ridiculous to go through this charade to find an American."

Subtleties aside, companies engaging in such practices are violating the spirit if not the letter of the law. And they're doing so as a result of the very thing they chastise in workers: laziness. Many employers in the U.S. appear to have become disinclined to train workers, due to the ease of dipping into the foreign talent pool. Finding good people and training them takes work and costs money.

If businesses want their claims about talent shortages to be considered seriously, they need to support their claims with a more transparent hiring process. Matloff believes this is unworkable, because the suitability of an employee will always remain in the eye of the beholder.

Perhaps so, but there could be more eyes trained on the hiring process, without turning this into another regulatory burden. If hiring decisions faced a company-wide vote, for example, merit or lack of merit would be more obvious. And among technical job seekers, contests can provide a way to evaluate potential employees in a context divorced from willingness to accept a below-market salary.

Matloff has made the case that H-1B workers are no better or brighter than U.S. workers. Let corporate America prove that supposedly essential foreign workers really have no peer here.

Previous
2 of 2
Next
Comment  | 
Print  | 
More Insights
Comments
Newest First  |  Oldest First  |  Threaded View
Page 1 / 9   >   >>
Mark
100%
0%
Mark,
User Rank: Apprentice
7/5/2013 | 10:23:54 AM
re: IT Talent Shortage Or Purple Squirrel Hunt?
Its not even training. There are fully competent workers who apply to these jobs who aren't even interviewed. Because there's a glut. Or because they don't want to give the new hire a week to read a book on the differences between DOS 3.2 and DOS 3.3.
Mark
100%
0%
Mark,
User Rank: Apprentice
7/5/2013 | 10:21:16 AM
re: IT Talent Shortage Or Purple Squirrel Hunt?
H-1B's at $155k are exceedingly rare.
Mark
100%
0%
Mark,
User Rank: Apprentice
7/5/2013 | 10:15:25 AM
re: IT Talent Shortage Or Purple Squirrel Hunt?
Look buddy, I graduated nearly at the top of my class, in EE/CS, in 2002. Have submitted my resume thousands of times to tech firms that claim to be looking to hire. I can count the replies to my applications on my fingers. There is no shortage of talent, or skill. There is a huge glut which is made even worse by the H-1B visa. The majority of IT projects fail because talented people like myself and my peers are being left on the sidelines while less than competent talent, usually on H-1B, is being hired in our places.
Mark
100%
0%
Mark,
User Rank: Apprentice
7/5/2013 | 10:13:19 AM
re: IT Talent Shortage Or Purple Squirrel Hunt?
Firms receive often hundreds, sometimes thousands of applications for a single position in the software sector. I know domestic grads who have spent much of the past decade applying for jobs, not working, because of this nonsense. There is no shortage of talent, there is simply a shortage of employers motivated to pick up the phone and start hiring.
voster
50%
50%
voster,
User Rank: Apprentice
4/14/2013 | 5:04:19 PM
re: IT Talent Shortage Or Purple Squirrel Hunt?
Training is a widely used option. Consider that only a portion of the 65,000 are IT workers, the IT industry still needs hundreds of thousands of IT workers to fulfil their needs. H-1Bs form only a drop in the ocean. So the vast majority still needs training and does get it.
voster
50%
50%
voster,
User Rank: Apprentice
4/14/2013 | 5:01:32 PM
re: IT Talent Shortage Or Purple Squirrel Hunt?
A lot of the immigrants eventually settled in the U.S., so I doubt technology transfer is such a big contributor. The vast majority of startups in China and Russia are by locally-trained engineers, or U.S. university grads that went home immediately after without taking an H-1B.

Add to that the fact that electronics and IT were technologies that experienced a lot of development in the 80s outside the U.S. and a lot of the diffusion of skills in countries apart from the U.S. are down to external developments.

Also, just because your lost dominance correlates with an increase in the numbers of immigrant workers doesn't mean there is causation. American dominance in the automobile industry was lost even without the "scourge" of immigrants. The world is very much capable of developing technologies and skills without everything needing to emanate America. To assume such is a fallacy.

Remember also that two decades ago, when you claim that there was "dominance", there was already a significant proportion of software workers not being American-born.

Unless you can come up with the numbers of how many immigrant workers in the Valley went home, it is very hard to prove a "brain drain" of sorts.
voster
50%
50%
voster,
User Rank: Apprentice
4/14/2013 | 4:54:45 PM
re: IT Talent Shortage Or Purple Squirrel Hunt?
A lot of the technology that you claim as American-made had in fact, a lot of contribution from immigrants. So your point is quite moot.
voster
50%
50%
voster,
User Rank: Apprentice
4/14/2013 | 4:50:59 PM
re: IT Talent Shortage Or Purple Squirrel Hunt?
The H-1B application data is available and in the public domain. It would be handy if someone evidence if you could actually collate how many of the 65,000 every year in IT actually earn below $50,000 wages. Last time I check, it wasn't too prevalent.

Finally, of course, I think it's absurd to lay the blame of larger structural problems in the industry on the H-1B scheme, when this is a drop in the ocean of the total labor force in IT.

Personally, I'd like to see the H-1B scheme scrapped, just so we can all see how the American IT industry will take a hit. The fact of the matter is, detractors like to focus on a few anecdotes of bad H-1B workers (which are bound to slip through) and utterly ignore the plnetiful success stories.
voster
50%
50%
voster,
User Rank: Apprentice
4/14/2013 | 4:44:59 PM
re: IT Talent Shortage Or Purple Squirrel Hunt?
Why would Corporate America be willing to pay the exact same cost to train an Indian worker? They don't save any money that way?
voster
50%
50%
voster,
User Rank: Apprentice
4/14/2013 | 4:38:45 PM
re: IT Talent Shortage Or Purple Squirrel Hunt?
Maybe you really are not skilled enough for the jobs you are seeking?

The vast majority of software workers in America are still Americans. It is still dominated by Americans. So if they seem to be doing okay, maybe it's time to look inwards, rather than outwards for the root cause of your predicaments?

Obviously, I can't claim to know you that well, but right off the bat I won't immediately call your CV impressive. You also need to align your pay and seniority expectations with your CV.
Page 1 / 9   >   >>
2014 US Salary Survey: 10 Stats
2014 US Salary Survey: 10 Stats
InformationWeek surveyed 11,662 IT pros across 30 industries about their pay, benefits, job satisfaction, outsourcing, and more. Some of the results will surprise you.
Register for InformationWeek Newsletters
White Papers
Current Issue
InformationWeek Tech Digest September 24, 2014
Start improving branch office support by tapping public and private cloud resources to boost performance, increase worker productivity, and cut costs.
Flash Poll
Video
Slideshows
Twitter Feed
InformationWeek Radio
Sponsored Live Streaming Video
Everything You've Been Told About Mobility Is Wrong
Attend this video symposium with Sean Wisdom, Global Director of Mobility Solutions, and learn about how you can harness powerful new products to mobilize your business potential.