Readers speak out about U.S. IT labor shortage

When IT executives say there's an IT labor shortage in the U.S., readers have plenty to say -- from why there might be a shortage to why executives claim there is one.

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Recently site editor Michelle Davidson wrote about IT executives' claims of there being a shortage of IT labor in the United States. She asked readers what they thought. Here's a look at some of their comments.


U.S. companies not looking for U.S. workers
I read your article, like so many others in the past few years, with interest and a bit of anger. I have a unique perspective of the IT labor market that I think makes me far more qualified to comment on the current state of IT employment than Bill Gates.

I've worked in IT as a technician for 31 years. I've seen friends laid off, their jobs sent overseas. One of my co-workers went to ACS to work as a network specialist. After a few years, ACS laid off half of their employees in his department and gave the jobs to technicians in India, claiming they could do the work just as well (at lower cost) and this way ACS would have technical support 24 hours a day. What really happened was the technical support people in India couldn't handle the work and paged the remaining U.S. staff to handle the problems day and night. But ACS saved money.

Bill Gates and his ilk need to stop lobbying Congress to make changes and start giving future technical graduates incentives to pursue technical degrees.
Gregg Swank
Sr. systems programmer

Many of my laid-off friends have not been able to find technical jobs here in the U.S. Companies don't want to hire 50-year-olds with 25 or more years experience. I have a neighbor who is from India who worked for 15 years in credit card processing. He was laid off and went back to school to upgrade his technical skills (C++, Java, Windows, Unix, etc.), but nobody would hire him. Frankly, he had become too expensive.

My son graduated from Texas Tech University in May 2004 with a degree in Computer Engineering. He graduated with honors (a 3.79 grade point average). He attended all job fairs that were held at Texas Tech in 2001 through 2004 (until he graduated). He got a summer internship with IBM in 2003 and hoped to be hired full-time after graduation by IBM. IBM was (and still is) in the process of "off-shoring" jobs to India and did not make him an offer for full-time employment. If you remember, IBM made an announcement in 2003 that it was reducing the number of employees in Europe and America while increasing the number of employees in India. He also noticed during this period that Intel, HP and Microsoft did not send any recruiters to the job fairs. At the same time, these companies successfully lobbied Congress to drastically increase the number of H-1B visas. If you are not going to the universities to recruit science, math and engineering graduates, how do you know if there is a lack of graduates?

I don't know anymore what to tell high school students who have an interest and ability in math and science. American companies have laid off Americans, brought foreigners in on H-1B visas or shipped those high-paying technical jobs overseas. Then they wonder why universities are graduating fewer Americans in math, science, and engineering. No student with half a brain is going to put in the work needed to graduate with a technical degree if no jobs will be available upon graduation. Bill Gates and his ilk need to stop lobbying Congress to make changes and start giving future technical graduates incentives to pursue technical degrees (i.e., high-paying secure jobs).

For Gates to claim he and other companies are "forced to locate staff in countries more open to skilled foreign workers" is a lie; their off-shoring and use of H-1B visa workers for the past 10 years to cut costs has led to the current situation. Sure, students in India and China are more willing to pursue technical degrees because those students know they will find high-paying jobs upon graduation. American students have no such guarantees of job prospects after graduation. Bill Gates and his corporate buddies need to stop lining their own pockets and start investing in the American workers they claim to want. The reality of the situation is this: American companies are falsely claiming an absence of technical skills so they can "justify" more cheap labor to the detriment of American technicians and in the long term, the detriment of the American economy.

Gregg Swank
Sr. systems programmer
Dallas


IT professionals don't get respect
Of course there are fewer people coming into IT. IT professionals do not get any respect any more. With the off-shoring bit the companies have decided to do, we don't even know if our job is going to be around or not. Why should anybody come into a field that has no job security? There was a time when developers were treated with respect -- now we are on the same level as janitors. Anybody can step into our position and do our jobs as well or better. Of course, this is not true but try to tell a manager this. When I go to technology events, I see more grey hair (mine Included) than I care to talk about. The young people are all from other countries. I don't know what this industry is going to do once us old timers hit retirement.

So, this country does have a real problem, and it's caused my industry management eliminating the technical category of jobs.

Tim Kingsley


Lower costs win out
After being personally involved in three companies off-shoring a large chunk of their IT staff, I find it is cost not lack of resources that is driving the opening of visas. Simply put, if you were to have a large pool of well-experienced and educated U.S. resources at a cost of 20% more than a pool of well-educated resources that cost less, management is always going to select the group that is less costly regardless of the benefits in the long run.

Bob Burdick
Sr. business analyst
Carmel, Ind.


A one-two punch
Well, I'd say it's both -- an increased interest in other companies and executives looking for less-expensive labor. And it's all due to the current outsourcing trend.

I am an IT professional, but if I were 10 years younger, I'd switch trades in a blink of an eye.
Mihai Singer
IT systems analyst

First of all, Microsoft is known to not have outsourced many jobs offshore, but instead they do a "reverse outsourcing." They bring those foreign professionals to the U.S., hence Mr. Gates' lobbying for more H-1B visas.

On the other hand, with all that outsourcing and the continuous leaking of IT jobs to Asia and other geographical zones, it seems only normal that people who think before acting will try and stay away from the shaky IT job market. I am an IT professional, but if I were 10 years younger, I'd switch trades in a blink of an eye.

And do I need to say that the root of all that goes way up into the politics cloud?

Mihai Singer
IT systems analyst
Toronto, Canada


Not a good time to go into IT
I'm a long-term IT pro who has been in the business almost from its outset in the early 70's.

IT has been good for me. I've personally been treated well, enjoyed the work and had a good "run for the money," but I would never advise anybody to go into IT today.

Why?

Well let's see, based on a casual review of the press in any given timeframe:

  1. You get blamed for whatever goes wrong in a business process even if the IT component is minimal. I'm sorry, but end users are NOT 100% right all of the time. There I said it!

  2. You work your butt off, sometimes on evenings and weekends, usually with no thanks and then find you have been outsourced to somebody in another country for $7 an hour.

  3. The mass media treats you and your profession as a joke. After all, we are all weirdoes and geeks, right?

  4. Most C-level executives, even in this day and age, are, to be blunt, clueless about IT. It's often seen as a necessary evil -- at best.

  5. Y2 K was a. a joke and b. a make-work project by IT

I could go on …

Bob Gilbert


U.S. government needs to help it citizens
Every time I hear some executive say that we don't have enough skilled IT and engineering resources in this country I want to go point them to the ever-shrinking middle-class sector of our population. These claims are nothing more than people trying to increase corporate revenues at the expense of the American people. I think our government has been blinded by the lobbyists and are willing to continually place corporate interest ahead of its constituents.

I have been in the computer/high-tech industry for about three decades, and I have seen countless changes ranging from technology to workers. In every major city we can see thousands of East Indians who are brought over here on H-1B visas to work. These people really don't have a vested long-term interest in our communities or our country. I have been working with East Indians for about two decades. They are niece people, but for most of them their main goal is to make some money and return to their country. Major companies are selling out our country daily by outsourcing jobs and bringing in IT and engineering workers to do jobs that so many of us are equally qualified to do.

Look at India. Thirty years ago most of us knew very little of it, but today most every household know so much about it because corporate America has placed Indians ahead of their own.

Don't get me wrong. I am aware of the need to globalize our economy and our products, and we wonder why our economy and our quality of life has been going south over the past decade. I know of qualified IT and engineering employees who are on the verge of losing their homes because they don't have a permanent full-time job that pays a competitive salary like our parents had four decades ago.

As a country we need to say no to H-1B visas and pressure our government to work with us so we can have a future. At the rate we are going, within 30 to 40 years India and China will be super-super powers and we will be second-class citizens, and the actions of our corporate executives would have gone a long way in helping to change this world order.

Michael Bishop


It's really cost-driven market competition
In response to the question about an IT labor shortage: The short answer is maybe. The difficulty is in defining the scope of the "labor."

When you look at the various position announcements and examine the requirements laundry list, you sometimes wonder if anyone could qualify. I have seen requests for some specialties that state "X number of years experience" in some hot new coding method or a specific requirement for programming experience. The problem is that the only people who might qualify are the original development team because the only way anyone could meet the length of time required in the announcement is if they started when the "requirement" was invented. Unfortunately these requirements are then used as a screening tool by HR departments to determine if an applicant is qualified.

A similar issue arises when a particular title or job name is used. "Applicant must have X years experience as a Java Lead Developer." Unfortunately the screening is on that exact title. An applicant my be a great Java developer but have been a lead developer over a .Net team. So, again the match is not made; again use of some "key word" causes mismatches.

The problem is both on the part of the applicant and the business. Those applicants who are focused on specific skills miss opportunities and businesses lose having a broader range of applicants from which to select. We ARE in a more competitive age, but that does not necessarily mean we need to be more narrow in evaluating our labor force.

I do believe that there are other driving forces for the "labor" shortage. Businesses are unwilling to reinvest in their current staff. It seems to me that over the last 10 years or so there has been a movement to "hire skills" rather then develop them. As there has been more emphasis on reducing IT costs, the investment in training dollars and time has diminished. Business then sees that it needs certain new skills (example: Web developers) and realizes that the current development staff does not have the skills that will be needed. A cycle then starts where it re-staffs to add the new skills.

IT has been doing this for years (my first IT job was in the early 70's). What is now different is a new market has developed via the H-1Bs. It is now possible to look to those markets for these skills, still not reinvest in your current staff so you don't waste time or incur expenses with staff training and possibly even reduce the pressure on wages by hiring new staff at a lower salary.

Business is also letting the educational system off the hook. By saying we can get the necessary staff from other markets instead of putting pressure on the educational system and investing in a strong partnership everyone looses.

I could go on about any number of "requirements," but the bottom line is businesses can either screen for good potential candidates or try to get the laundry list checked off. I would hope that we could stop talking about the "IT labor shortage" and call it what it is -- "cost-driven market competition".

The IT industry can either decide if it wants to continue to shift innovation to other countries or rebuild the infrastructure of the US to compete in the future. Either way it is going to cost. But by rebuilding a strong infrastructure we invest in making the US an player in the world economy of the future.

Dan Rosen
Oregon


Shortage artificially created
I get very upset reading pronouncements from executives like Bill Gates complaining about the alleged IT shortage in the U.S. To me, Gates was crying crocodile tears last week. If there is a shortage, it was artificially created by the same corporations demanding increases in H-1B allotments.

College enrollments in computer science programs have been dropping over the last five years. Too many computer science graduates have not been able to find entry-level IT work and end up behind the counters at retail jobs or other low paying work. The more fortunate ones get positions in low-paying Web development jobs. Current students see the handwriting on the wall, and it is written in Hindu. The corporations prefer to import H-1B workers with experience in place of American college grads. Or that work is simply outsourced outside the country. And any entry-level jobs out there pay in the $20K range compared to what it was in the 1990s.

There is also a large pool of former IT professionals currently without jobs whose skill sets are in areas that have become obsolete. The same companies that have cut these workers also refused to train them in new technologies. And there are many, many laid off IT professionals who are willing to be re-trained. Many of these people also returned to school at their own expense to learn new skills. But when they go to find jobs, guess what? They need to take their place in line with the younger college graduates, since they are now considered "entry-level."

I am still fortunate enough to work in this industry, but at a greatly reduced salary from 10 years ago. When a high school senior looking to choose a major asked me about computer science, I counseled him to look elsewhere and keep computers as a sideline. With both outsourcing to India and the import of Indian workers that seems to be increasing, there really is no future for Americans unless things change soon.

Gregory Mysko
Northbrook, Ill.

This was first published in March 2008

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