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Workforce shortage is real, but solutions must be creative

Madison, Wis. - Ed Gordon believes the labor pool is out of whack with the labor marketplace, and he has written what he hopes will become a wake up call for American employers and workers.

In the view of Gordon, author of The 2020 Meltdown: Solving the Impending Jobs Crisis, the forthcoming IT workforce shortage is a legitimate worry. Millions of Americans who are unemployed do not have the right talent for the jobs that need to be filled, with many people earning college degrees that are not translating into decent employment. There now are four million jobs empty, Gordon said, and half of them are highly skilled positions that require specialized technology training and education.

“The issue is that the labor market is out of sync with the realities of the global marketplace with the jobs we are creating and the jobs that are disappearing,” Gordon said. “This is a problem all over the U.S. and most of the developed world.”

Gordon is not the only one sounding the alarm. Melanie Holmes, vice president of World of Work Solutions for Manpower, said in early 2007, 41 percent of the American companies Manpower surveyed said they were having trouble filling positions - not just in science and technology, but also across the board

“That is a historically large number,” she said.
Convergence of forces

Gordon said the situation is being exacerbated by specific social and economic forces converging at the same time. The most prominent is that technology is becoming more pervasive in every facet of life, and since technology is complex, people use it in ways that support or create new products and services.

If there is one mitigating circumstance regarding the IT worker shortage, it's that companies are loading up on technology and they want fewer workers to do more. The trend is offset somewhat by the increased efficiency enabled by technology, but that requires talented people. They must be highly literate, and they need specialized technology training.

“Only 25 percent of the workforce comfortably fits into that category, but 75 percent of the jobs we're creating demand it,” Gordon said.

Those other 75 percent, many of whom are high school dropouts, don't have the right talent mix. Some were trained in old technologies that now are obsolete and have gone away. Some have college degrees, but they are degrees in communication, finance, and marketing, where there already are far too many people for the number of available jobs.

At the same time, we have too many “techno peasants,” who Gordon characterized as people with low levels of literacy, plus no specialized career preparation, who are confined to low-wage jobs for the rest of their lives. Until last 20 years, there were fairly good-paying jobs, mostly in industrial settings, that did not require high levels of literacy. Those jobs since have gone by the wayside, and new technology requires higher levels of literacy, specialized skills, and career preparation.

With that in mind, Gordon believes society is divided into three groups.

• Smart people with right talent who keep their skills up to date through networking, seminars, and simply reading books. These workers keep shifting. Most mature workers are not doing the exact same things they did when they were young, and so they had to update their knowledge and apply it in new ways. Given the increasing complexity of technology, this trend will continue to accelerate because people will need more education, not less.

• Younger people who have been steered away from technology fields. In 2010, a tsunami of 79 million Baby Boomers will start to leave the workforce, and about 60 percent of the jobs that must be filled now are occupied by Baby Boomers that will need to be replaced. Many Boomers have the technical skills to keep the economy running, and they represent a larger cadre of people with more technical skills than the generations behind them, who were told that tech jobs weren't cool and don't pay enough. "They love technology - they eat it and breath it,” Gordon said, "but they don't want to design it, make it, repair it, or manage it. The sad part is we need a certain proportionality of these generations to become involved.

• Imported models. American companies used globalization to get rid of low-pay, low-skill jobs that could be done elsewhere, especially India. In addition, U.S. companies have hired high-wage, high skill people they have not found in the United States, and they have imported foreign workers with H-1B visas to fill positions in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) careers. The challenge will be that the countries America is importing from are becoming richer as their own economies develop. These imported workers are being called home, especially as wages rise, where they can earn more money and be with their families.

Still more labor competition will come, Gordon said, when Europeans move production facilities to the United States because they can't find enough workers.

Maturation process

Communities will need to retain older workers in the STEM areas and rebuild the pipeline of young people, Gordon said. The challenge is the generational disconnect between the older Baby Boomers and the younger generations X and Y. Boomers, who are more likely to be workaholics, have a very different outlook on the quality of work life. The younger generations are more family oriented and crave more work-life balance.

Manpower's Melanie Holmes said businesses should focus on the aging worker as part of the problem and the solution.

An alarming 78 percent of employers that Manpower talks to are not worried about the impact of aging workforce on their place of business. In addition, only 18 percent of employers that Manpower talks to have a strategy to recruit older workers, and only 28 percent have a strategy to retain them.

"They are not going to start worrying about it until they start feeling the pain, but by then it will be a little late,” Holmes said.

Companies should have strategies in place to recruit and retain mature workers, especially given that life expectancy will encroach well into 80s, and the average retirement age now is 62.

“What will they do for the next 30 years?” Holmes asked. “The AARP (American Association of Retired Persons) research says people plan to work past retirement age, so companies should have strategies in place to recruit and retain their mature workers.”

Specifically, they should recruit mature or retired workers from the outside, and make sure their employment practices are age-friendly or age-neutral to help retain older workers. For first time in history, four generations are working together, so all companies need to be careful about age bias and make sure all generations get along in the workplace. Diversity programs should include generational diversity issues so people learn how to work with different generations.

To encourage workers not to go “cold turkey” at 65, flexible work options can give them the incentive to continue working by either telecommuting, working part-time, or job sharing. Another carrot is to leverage their expertise nine months out of the year, and allow them to take summers off.

Holmes said employers should pay attention to the demographics of their workforce so they have a sense of how many workers will be eligible for retirement and when, and plan to transfer the lifetime of knowledge that otherwise would walk out the door to younger generations of workers. This can be done through formal training programs, job shadowing, mentoring, or other programs where mature workers are charged with imparting what they know to younger generations.

Employers also should be using their “alumni,” but that requires keeping in touch with them after they leave. Like those who retire directly from the company, alumni can be used for training and mentoring, project work, and consulting engagements.

Passing the torch isn't the only business consideration, Holmes noted. “Many IT organizations, especially those with lots of legacy applications, really are going to be in trouble when mature workers leave,” Holmes sated. “None of the young employees will want to learn old systems, and they will have to replace them.”

Diversity rules

Marilyn Nagel, director of diversity and inclusion for Cisco Systems, said getting more women into the STEM disciplines is a matter of providing job flexibility options. She said Cisco has been interviewing women, finding a number of reasons why they leave the workforce, and learning what would lure them back. Some of the lures would be flexible work options, so the ability to flex their hours, work from home, or work part time is paramount.

“We're looking at bringing in a couple of high-level IT women who want to work but are not willing to commit to the 80-hour type weeks that we tend to have in IT," Nagel said. “So we're giving them options to say, 'You want to work 30 hours, you want to work 20 hours, balancing some work-life issues, what could we do to make it more palatable to you?'”

Nagel, who spoke before the December 2007 meeting of Accelerate Madison, said Cisco also is looking to let women “off ramp” for two years, and come back after their children have grown so they don't have to start over. “We know when women off ramp and they come back into the work force, they often can't get jobs near the level or pay where they were,” she said.

“I think it absolutely takes creativity [to lure them back].”

That creativity has removed the nation's overall lack of broadband deployment as a barrier to work flexibility. At Cisco, everyone is given company-financed broadband access in the home. An employee with a scheduled call in India at 9 p.m. is not expected to remain in the office, and the same goes for a 6 a.m. call with Europe or a 7 p.m. call with Asia.

“We need to make sure you have high-speed broadband access at home, so we do provide it to every employee,” Nagel said.

Given the relatively low numbers of young women pursuing careers in the STEM disciplines - even with historically high numbers of women in the collegiate ranks - recruiting from colleges is still a challenge for Cisco and other technology companies. Cisco, which has established a women's action network to support women as they enter the workforce, may have a special advantage in recruiting women to IT because it has a female CIO, Rebecca Jacoby, which in itself conveys sensitivity to the issue of diversity. It also lends credibility to Cisco's Networking Academy and mentoring and intern programs.

“She [Jacoby] is extremely sensitive to the issue and she's a great spokesperson,” Nagel said. “When you see that the CIO, which is the top technology person, is a woman, you know that there are growth opportunities for you.”

Cisco believes that diversifying its workforce in terms of gender, race, and other factors contribute to its business goals. “We believe that employees from different backgrounds bring different thinking and innovation with them to Cisco,” she said.

Youth is served

Guri Sohi, chairman of the Computer Science Department at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, has talked candidly about the declining numbers of his department since the height of the dotcom era in 2000. At that point, the UW Computer Science Department granted about 170 bachelor's degrees annually, and now is down below 80 per year. It also once granted 100 master's degrees annually, but that has declined to about 50 per year.

Meanwhile, PhDs have remained stable at roughly 20 per year, but there are some ominous national trends. Roughly 75 percent of all doctorate degrees granted nationally in electrical engineering are going to non-U.S. citizens.

UW-Madison's experience mirrors the national trends, and several efforts are underway to reverse it. One Wisconsin effort is Powered Up, a consortium of businesses and schools in Dane County working to increase awareness in information technology careers. The group was formed in 1999, and is now engaged in talks with the Information Technology Association of Wisconsin to expand statewide.

Internships, job shadowing, and links to organizations participating in programs like UW-Madison's Information Technology Academy are among the ways Powered Up is trying to reach its target audience. The message is simple: don't buy into the geeky image that has been hung on young techies. That starts with pointing out that, according to the state Department of Workforce Development, that Wisconsin IT-related jobs with the most job openings between 2004 and 2014 are not programming occupations, but jobs like computer application software engineers, computer systems analysts, and network and computer support administrators.

Teresa Drabenstadt, senior manager of internal audit and IT for CUNA Mutual Group and a spokesperson for Powered Up, said students often have a misguided perception of IT and are unaware of the amount of variety involved in the technology industry.

“Everybody thinks of the geek in the corner, programming and not talking to anybody, and being very introverted, uncool and all that,” Drabenstadt said. “We're trying to change that perception.”

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Kim Berry - Programmers Guild responded 7 years ago: #1

I don’t share Ed Gordon’s concern over a skill shortage meltdown in 2020. I think more like the U.S. economy collapses by then and U.S. tech workers will be in soup lines as the offshoring trend, and thus trade imbalance, grows beyond sustainability.

Cisco is willing to offer women less than 80-hour work weeks, but does not make the same concession to attract male workers? How is that not sex discrimination - and how is that no a sign that they are able to attract sufficent male workers?

HP Roseville (near Sacramento) has dropped headcount from 6000 to 3000 over the past several years. Nearby Intel purged over 100 IT workers recently. They are both able to bring in unlimited workers from India and China on L-1 visas while paying them foriegn wages while they work in the USA. Americans are getting laid off. Ed Gordon is on another planet.

Bruce de la Vega responded 7 years ago: #2

Ed Gordon is wrong, and so is Kim Berry. Bright, well-educated US science and tech workers have already been in the lines at food pantries over the last 8 years. There were articles about it in 2001 and 2002, as unemployed tech workers first volunteered at them to stay busy and network... and then depended on them (e.g. 2001-08-07 Shawn Hubler _LA Times_ pg A1) and it has continued.

Meanwhile, businesses in Wisconsin (and MI and MN and IL and NY and CA) have been highly resistant to flying in bright US citizens from around the country as they did in the 1970s and 1980s, no longer relocate innovative US citizens, no longer provide reasonable specialized training for a few weeks to complement solid backgrounds of well-educated US citizens.

As to retaining older workers, the opposite seems to be the case. Media have reported that about 35 is the current point at which age discrimination has become obvious, and has been these last 10 years or so.

We know that recruiters are working harder to avoiding hiring US citizens and taking special classes to coach them in how to get away with it legally. Those same classes teach how to play the system to pay below prevailing market compensation to guest-workers.

Reports from the Urban Institute, Sloan Foundation, Harvard, Duke, and RAND Corp. all say US citizens are earning more degrees in science and tech than are being employed. There have been regular curriculum updates.

We do see a lot more body shopping, but there are still fewer real jobs in IT than there were in 2001 according to the monthly report from BLS.

And then there are specializations that should be difficult to recruit for -- those involving unethical activities. Ideally, all professionals would turn down such jobs flat and executives would give up on such corrupt schemes. But, of course, when it comes to CRM, HRMS, health data, RFID and such there is plenty of room for debate of the ethics, though we've seen very little in the professional journals, business press, or the main-stream media.

jhm responded 7 years ago: #3

I graduated from engineering school in 1966. Since then I have seen more than a dozen predictions of an engineering shortage like Ed Gordon’s. I have yet to see one come true. The usual situation is that when the time frame of the predicted shortage comes there are mass layoffs of engineers instead of a shortage. What usually happens is that employers take the shortage predictions to congress and use them to get more cheap foreign labor.

The following is a brief history of shortage forecasts excerpted from Michael Teitelbaum at the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation. It is consistent with my experience:

It was written in 2002 and some of it is old.

A history of gloomy forecasts

Pronouncements of shortages in American science and engineering have a long history. They date at least to the late 1950s, around the time the USSR launched Sputnik, the first orbiting satellite, prompting concerns that an era of Soviet technological advantage over the United States had emerged. The United States responded with massive public investments in science and engineering education. This led to sharp increases in the numbers pursuing such studies, and a surfeit in the 1970s of entry-level scientists and engineers.

The recent history of shortage forecasts begins in the mid 1980s, when the then-leadership of the National Science Foundation (NSF) and a few top research universities began to predict “looming shortfalls” of scientists and engineers in the next two decades. Their arguments were based upon quite simplistic demographic projections produced by a small policy office reporting to the NSF director—projections that earlier had been sharply criticized by the NSF’s own science and engineering workforce experts.

Only a few years later, it became apparent that the trends actually pointed toward a growing surplus of scientists and engineers. In 1992, the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology’s Subcommittee on Investigations and Oversight conducted a formal investigation and hearing about the shortfall projections, leading to much embarrassment at the NSF. In his opening remarks at the hearing, the subcommittee’s Chairman, Democrat Howard Wolpe of Michigan, declared that the “credibility of the [National Science] Foundation is seriously damaged when it is so careless about its own product.” Sherwood Boehlert, the subcommittee’s ranking Republican and now chair of the full House Science Committee, called the NSF director’s shortfall predictions “the equivalent to shouting ‘Fire’ in a crowded theater.” They were “based on very tenuous data and analysis. In short, a mistake was made,” he said. “Let’s figure out how to avoid similar mistakes, and then move on.”

Boehlert’s advice was not heeded. Only five years later, during the high-tech boom of the late 1990s, an industry association known as the Information Technology Association of America (ITAA) began to produce a series of reports asserting burgeoning gaps and shortages of information-technology workers, based on proprietary surveys of what it termed “job openings.” The first ITAA report claimed that some 190,000 information-technology jobs could not be filled in 1997. The second concluded that there were 346,000 open positions in 1998. The Department of Commerce then produced its own report, which drew heavily upon the findings of the two ITAA reports.

The General Accounting Office (GAO) published a sharply critical assessment of these three related reports in 1998. It concluded that all of their shortfall estimates were questionable due to the studies’ weak methodologies and very low response rates. Unabashed, ITAA returned to the fray in 2000. Its third report asserted that over 843,000 information-technology positions would go unfilled that year due to a shortfall of qualified workers. Despite withering criticism from the GAO, the ITAA reports provided useful political support for the successful lobbying campaign for dramatic expansion—to the current level of 195,000 per year—of the H-1B visa, the temporary-visa program for foreign “specialty workers” that comprise the bulk of foreign science and engineering professionals being admitted to work in the United States.

Remarkably, even the recent economic downturn does not seem to have deterred proponents of the workforce shortage theory. Take NASA administrator Sean O’Keefe, who invoked a shortage argument during testimony before the House Science Committee in October 2002 on NASA’s hiring problems. “Throughout the Federal government, as well as the private sector, the challenge faced by a lack of scientists and engineers is real and is growing by the day,” O’Keefe told the committee.

The following month a new organization called Building Engineering and Science Talent (BEST) published a report entitled “The Quiet Crisis: Falling Short in Producing American Scientific and Technical Talent.” This “quiet crisis,” the report’s authors noted, “stems from the gap between the nation’s growing need for scientists, engineers, and other technically skilled workers and its production of them.... This ‘gap’ represents a shortfall in our national scientific and technical capabilities.”

Some business leaders and academics are also advancing the shortage thesis despite the economic downturn. Two reports with findings similar to the BEST study subsequently emerged in the spring of 2003. One was a report addressed to the Government-University-Industry Research Roundtable (GUIRR) of the National Academies, and the other was prepared by the Committee for Economic Development (CED), an organization of business and education leaders.

Even some associated with the NSF seem unchastened by the embarrassing failure of the “shortfall” projections of a decade ago. In June 2003, the National Science Board, the NSF’s governing body, released for public comment a draft task-force report addressing the “unfolding crisis” in science and engineering. “Current trends of supply and demand for [science and engineering] skills in the workplace indicate problems that may seriously threaten our long-term prosperity, national security, and quality of life,” it said.

The evidence

The profound irony of many such claims is the disjuncture between practice in the scientific and engineering professions—in which accurate empirical evidence and careful analyses are essential—and that among promoters of “shortage” claims in the public sphere, where the analytical rigor is often, to be kind, quite weak. Few, if any, of the market indicators signaling shortages exist. Strong upward pressure on real wages and low unemployment rates relative to other education-intensive professions are two such indicators conspicuously absent from the contemporary marketplace.

A RAND study released earlier this year assembled the available data from its own research, the NSF, the Census Bureau, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the National Research Council (NRC), and several scientific associations. What RAND found largely discredits the case being made for labor shortages. First, RAND noted the obsolescence of the available data, the newest of which refers mostly to 1999 or 2000. RAND called this “especially unfortunate” given that “the [science and engineering] workforce situation has arguably changed significantly” since those heady times of the dot-com, information technology, and telecom booms. But more importantly, RAND’s analysis of even data from the boom period showed that “neither earnings patterns nor unemployment patterns indicate [a science and engineering] shortage in the data we were able to find.”

Recent government unemployment data tend to confirm these findings. Data for the first and second quarters of 2003 released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics showed surprisingly high unemployment rates in science and engineering fields. Even the recently “hot” computer and mathematical occupations are experiencing unemployment of 5.4 to 6 percent. For computer programmers, the numbers range from 6.7 to 7.5 percent. All engineering (and architecture) occupations taken together are averaging 4.4 percent unemployment, while the rates for the high-tech fields of electrical and electronic engineering are in the range of 6.4 to 7 percent. Reported unemployment in the life, physical, and social sciences ranges from 2.8 to 4.1 percent. Many of these numbers are remarkably high for such high-skill occupations. Unemployment for the whole of the U.S. workforce averaged about 6 percent over the same period, and highly educated groups such as scientists and engineers normally have substantially lower unemployment rates than the national average.

In the natural-science disciplines, which employ far fewer people than engineering, numerous reports by leading scientists have been pointing to increasingly unattractive career prospects for newly minted Ph.D.s. As one example among many, a 1998 National Academy of Sciences (NAS) committee on careers in the life sciences—the largest field in the natural sciences—reported that “recent trends in employment opportunities suggest that the attractiveness to young people of careers in life-science research is declining.” More recent data from 2002 showed that key indicators of career problems had continued to deteriorate since then, prompting Shirley Tilghman, the NAS committee’s chair and current president of Princeton University, to tell Science magazine that she found the 2002 data “appalling.” She said the data reviewed earlier by the committee looked “bad” at the time, “but compared to today, they actually look pretty good.” The 2003 RAND study concurred. “Altogether, the data ... do not portray the kind of vigorous employment and earnings prospects that would be expected to draw increasing numbers of bright and informed young people into [science and engineering] fields,” RAND concluded.

It is of course quite possible to have “appalling” early career problems in some areas of science and engineering alongside very good career prospects in others. Administrators of federal technical agencies such as NASA do face special problems such as hiring freezes or other ongoing personnel or financial constraints. Senior personnel at NASA and other agencies have been offered substantial early retirement incentives while hiring procedures to replace them tend to be cumbersome and slow. In “hot” fields that are new or growing rapidly, like bioinformatics, human resources are inevitably in short supply. And truly exceptional scientists and engineers will always be few in number and vigorously pursued by employers.

Still, in most areas of science and engineering at present, the available data show sufficient numbers or even surpluses of highly qualified candidates with extensive postgraduate education. This is especially the case in the academy, which has become risk-averse about replacing departing tenured faculty with tenure-track junior positions. Instead, many universities in the United States have been filling such open slots with temporary and part-time appointees they find in ample pools of highly educated applicants. Indeed, advertisements for a single tenure-track assistant professorship often attract hundreds of applications from recent Ph.D.s. Similar circumstances prevail for engineers and scientists in large sectors of the U.S. economy such as telecommunications, computing, and software, sectors in which lurching market collapses and large bankruptcies have greatly weakened demand for their services.

Jay Clark responded 7 years ago: #4

I am an older worker with a degree in chemistry and biology. After working for the state government for 23 years I had the opportunity to work overseas as a project director. When I returned to the USA I discovered I was "too old". So now I am back at my old job, making less money than I did 10 years ago, being supervised by people my children's age. Why this job? Because they couldn't find anyone with enough experience to get the job done! But the pay rate no longer matches up with today's economy. If business expects to hire back older workers, then they need to value grey hair and the wisdom that comes with it and be willing to pay a wage that makes it lucrative for older workers to want to stay in the workforce.

Steve M. responded 7 years ago: #5

Gordon is full of bull----. There is not a shortage and NEVER will be as long as they continue to outsource most manufacturing to other countries.
There is no incentive to spend years [and tens of thousands of dollars] learning specialties when the overpaid executives can hire foreign workers for a song and get a tax break besides.
On a different note: if there is such a dire shortage why aren't these companies training people themselves or working in concert with the universities to do so?
We are outsourcing our competency as a NATION and selling america to the Chinese and Saudis one treasury bill at a time.
Soon we will all be living in cardboard boxes and paying rent to these people while our "executives" will own properties the size of Texas and hire illegals to guard them.
Is this the "America" you want to hand your children? [who can't get a job because of all the "legal" and illegal immigrants]

Dennis W. responded 7 years ago: #6

I don't know about a meltdown, I think the market will adjust on a global basis. It may be a difficult transition process if you are American or European with no skills. Global wage competition will define the lifestyles of the western worker.

AARP's survey says that many boomers will keep working, but only 5% will stay full-time in their current positions.

RobSanz responded 7 years ago: #7

"The 2020 Meltdown" is pure bunk, but the author of this stupid article seems to have bought into it. To claim that shortages can be predicted in 2020 is about as idiotic as claiming that crystal balls can be used to predict the stock market. If employers can get away with making women programmers work 80 hours a week there isn't a shortage now, and there won't be one then.

The best thing about this article is reading the clueless morons that were interviewed. Where did Joe Vanden Plas find such a bunch of brain dead shills?

Barbara Elliott Eaves responded 7 years ago: #8

Whether or not we believe that there will be a shortage of tech jobs, the reality is that there are alot of jobs that need filling and a lot of people looking for jobs - but the jobs and the people don't match up.
We need one place where we can track what positions/qualifications corporations are looking for - then feed that info to the 2 & 4 year schools so that they can prepare students for jobs that actually exist in real time.
And let's stop calling the degree "Computer Science" - the term is so old and carries all the old baggage. How about "Advanced Technology".

Engineer responded 7 years ago: #9

As for the 2020 meltdown and predictions of dire shortages one is direct to recall the infamoous prediction of 675,000 shortfall of engineers/scientists back in 1989

Just go do a GOOGLE search:
675,000 shortages NSF

see what turns up!

Citizen Carrie responded 7 years ago: #10

It's hard for me to add much more to what others have already said, but, geez, look at this statement:

“The issue is that the labor market is out of sync with the realities of the global marketplace with the jobs we are creating and the jobs that are disappearing,” Gordon said. “This is a problem all over the U.S. and most of the developed world.”

".....all over the U.S. and most of the developed world."!!??? Good grief! If companies all over the world can't find qualified employees, then maybe hiring managers are being a little bit unrealistic as to their expectations for prospective employees.

Babs responded 7 years ago: #11

Here we are, heading into a recession, and the mass layoffs of American workers have already begun. The last thing we should be doing is expanding the foreign skilled guestworker programs, yet that is what we did back in 2000. There followed years of hell for American job seekers who were freed up by layoffs and then could hardly find openings or get interviews because we kept bringing in nearly 200 thousand foreign workers per year until 2003, because of an imaginary 'shortage' of tech talent. It is estimated that in 2001, 9 out of 10 IT job openings in America were given to foreign workers while American tech talent went begging for work, any work. Now it's deja vue all over again.

The H-1B program in particular is so rife with fraud, abuse, and over-usage that it should be ended or curtailed, not expanded. The fluffed up resumes, the body shops, the shell companies, the massive batch applications for visas by companies engaged in global labor arbitrage are destroying the American middle class. All these practices are in violation of the original intent of the H-1B: to temporarily fill spot shortages of skilled labor until Americans can be found or developed. Instead, competent, productive Americans (the same ones who made this nation a technological, engineering, and innovation world leader) have been simply put out by the curb on trash day, replaced with foreign workers in their own land.

If you don't want to take this trip down memory lane, it's time to get loud and active. Join here to tell your story, volunteer to speak to the media, and make a difference this recession:

Bob responded 7 years ago: #12

I keep reading these articles about a labor shortage of one type of worker or another. In many industries this is true. Some industries, I doubt it. What annoys me about these articles is they never touch the real reasons, aerospace, railroads, heavy industries, utilities have half of their skilled workforce retiring in 10 years. Or why they can't find anyone to take the jobs.

From the late 1970's to the mid 2000's these companies adopted new management ideas. Less is more. Shrink headcount by attrition, outsource, lean and mean, etc. These industries hardly bothered to hire anyone for nearly 20 years. Now for some strange reason they have a 20 year age gap in their workforce. Go figure. Now these industries complain that they don't have trained people to fill these gaps. They also can't understand why people refuse to work for them. They also complain that no schools are teaching the technical skills needed to work in these fields.

It's really pretty simple. 1) at least one or two generations of fresh faces teens and twenty somethings gave up on them and went somewhere else. 2) They listened to their parents tell them that working for those companies was a ticket to unemployment, outsourcing, and no job security. 3) The area of the US I grew up in, 70% of those jobs that existed are gone today. Closed up for good, or sent to another county. In those regions no school in their right mind will waste taxpayer money on classes that can't be used locally.

I just wish these companies would quit blaming eveyone else but themselves for the situation they find themselves in.

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NewsView responded 5 years ago: #15

There is a mismatch between skills and actual job openings, that much I will agree is "real". But the supposed science, engineering and high-tech shortage is artificial, not genuine for the following reasons:

1. Businesses generally want to hire people with 5+ years worth of experience, and this is particularly so in an employer's market (Recession). This precludes young grads with no prior experience from gaining the necessary on-the-job training, thereby inhibiting them from moving them into the very high-demand fields Gordon describes. The shortage is artificial in the sense that it is created, in part, by employers unwilling to hire US workers.

2. It is a well-known fact that many people do not work in the same field they studied in college. This reality will only accelerate as jobs are insourced using H-1B visa workers and the like. American citizens who are newly trained or graduated but lack the experience to get in on the ground floor often walk away, taking whatever it is that they can get. When they are discouraged by the fact that their costly educations amount to little more than insecure job prospects it further drives off the possibility that they will train in or remain in STEM fields. The shortage may one day be real, but only in the sense of a self-fulfilling prophecy caused by the perception that US employers don't want US-born grads.

3. Technology, particularly in the IT industry, is moving much faster than the curriculum for schools can possibly keep pace with. It looks as if this will only get worse, not better with increasing time and complexity. Expecting schools to replace on-the-job training is unrealistic. Similarly, not every set of job skills is published in the form of a book you can simply pick up from a bookstore or library, either. It's not possible to keep up with the demands of being "smart" — self-educated — if publishers and universities alike are late to the table. This comes full circle back to the reality that the best way to stay current is to be where the action is, and that takes landing at the right company making the right investments into the latest cutting-edge technology. Not every business needs or demands the same technologies, however, so the spinoffs are potentially limitless. Rather than to be a good generalist, IT is increasingly about specialization, knowing full well that a game changing innovation may make that niche obsolete overnight. Eventually this merry-go-round will spin so fast that even a savant will not be able to keep up. We will eventually reach an upper ceiling and it will take computers to maintain other computers.

4. Who is this Gordon guy to dispute multiple independent studies on the so-called STEM shortage by Yale, Georgetown, Rutgers, Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, The Urban Institute and scores of others? Their findings are NOT wrong. The problem is that by the time someone graduates their training is already on the way to obsolescence. It's not that we don't have enough high-tech grads but that too few employers want to invest in new hires or old talent that needs to be brought up to date. An education was supposed to prove that you were TEACHABLE, not omniscient.

5. The fallacy of America's competitive disadvantage is, ironically, promoted by an illiterate concept of the numbers: First off, we are not losing our competitive edge to other countries. We still rank in the top 2. Rather, those other countries, who were light years behind us, are catching up. It will be a long time before they surpass us as most of those emerging economies are industrializing vs. innovating. Innovating is still the domain of the US and other First World nations. Moreover, relative to our comparatively small population we have enough grads. If we didn't STEM salaries would be on the increase, not decrease. People who argue that we have a shortage of competitive US grads are engaging in the fallacy in comparing the US to STEM grad rates in high-population countries such as China and India. If India produces, say, 600,000 engineering grads per year, what percentage of their actual workforce does that constitute relative to the number of engineering grads in the US relative to our own population? That's the more intelligent question. Similarly, the likelihood that their curriculum would be any better than our own is also suspect, particularly in view of the fact that many foreign workers on visas are US educated (therefore at the same general talent level as our own grads attending the same institutions). These foreign recruits aren't in a better position than our grads — they just come cheaper than they do!

Follow the money. It never lies.

Bruce de la Vega responded 3 years ago: #16

There is no mismatch between skills and actual job openings. There is a mismatch between desire and reality.

Executives want people with IQs over 170 and PhDs who have already done for several years the specific kind of work they want to figure out how to do, and they want to pay 50% below the local market compensation for a wet-behind-the-ears newly graduated bachelor's, and well behind the rises in local costs of living.

Red China produces 600K shade-tree mechanics and handymen per year. The numbers of actual engineers is much lower as you separate out the vo-tech students from the associate's equivalents and bachelor's equivalents. And what percentage of their population is that?

Numbers of degrees in a particular field (or cluster of fields) do not equal numbers of capable workers in that field (or cluster of fields). Many excellent STEM workers do not have degrees; many more have non-STEM degrees. OTOH, some people with STEM degrees would not make good STEM workers. You'd normally expect that 10% or so of US computer science, physics, chemistry, and engineering grads would move on to fields where they could better cope; maybe even 3%-4% of MDs. And it would be reasonable for 80% of literature grads to expect to be creative when it comes to trying to find some other way to make a living.

But the studies suggest that only about 33% of US citizen STEM grads are getting STEM work right out of university, and that fraction drops more and more steeply over time, and with increasing age discrimination. THAT is evidence of a severe glut in STEM talent.

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