Skills Shortage or Hiring Difficulties?

By Ericka Chickowski Print this article Print

Despite what you've been told about the IT skills shortage, there's a multitude of evidence that suggests that line of reasoning is a self-serving myth. Baseline cuts in to the belly of the IT shortage debate.

Skills shortage or hiring difficulties?
Hal Salzman at the Urban Institute believes that part of the disconnect between employer’s view of a shrinking pool of solid recruits and employees views of a shrinking job market comes by way of unrealistic expectations from IT industry leaders.

“What tends to get mixed up in this discussion is the idea of a shortage versus a hiring difficulty,” Salzman says. “In my studies we tend to find that some of the it industry is new its growing and has unrealistic expectations of a mature labor market in most industries understand that it takes some time to train workers to become productive and there has been an expectation in the IT industry that you should be able to hire people off the street and day two or three they should come up to speed.”

He believes that many hiring managers complain that there is a shortage of eligible skilled IT workers because their vision of eligibility is impractical.

“I once had a manager talking about difficulty in finding a Java programmer with ten years java experience and who he wanted to come into a mid-level Java position,” Salzman said. “Java's been around for what, 12 years now? There are probably not a lot of these folks around who have that much experience and who are willing to work at that level.”

Last fall Salzman and Lindsay Lowell of Georgetown University produced a paper for The Urban Institute that showed that general science technology engineering and math ( STEM) enrollment at American universities was at least double the net increase of jobs each year. It noted that the IT industry in particular was unique in that up to 40 percent of IT workers have no STEM degree at all, many of whom came from the business side and learned the technology on the job. This only further widens the pool of eligible workers, he said.

Which is why he was troubled by Gartner’s claims of an impending shortage based on the raw graduation rate decline over the past several years. In their December 2007 paper, Gartner analysts used the argument that businesses are finding it hard to find “hybrid professionals” trained in technology and possessing business savvy due to a 39 percent drop in computer science enrollment since 2002.

“Yes that is true, but also the market crashed, right?,” Salzman said. “The absurdity of that statement is that they expect students to be blind to the market. The industry collapsed and a year later enrollment declined. That’s a problem? I mean wouldn't you be worried if students kept enrolling without any jobs? Would you want to hire people like that? They say they want these hybrid professionals who understand business and markets and yet they want them to make a career decision without taking into account the market?”

Salzman said that in his many years at the Urban Institute he has found that students are smart—enrollment rates go up when salary rates go up. He believes enrollment in IT-related degrees has gone down because there isn’t as much financial incentive to enter the IT career path. But that doesn’t mean that there aren’t enough graduates to go around. On the contrary, he says that the proportion of graduates to available jobs is still rising.

“Firms who once attracted the best and the brightest are having trouble doing that now that salaries aren’t as impressive,” he said. “Is that because there is a shortage or is it that because they are not as attractive as they once were and other firms are more attractive?”

Not only are there more than enough new graduates pumped out of universities each year to fill the country’s available technology jobs, but some like Wadhwa believe that there are many more experienced IT workers out of the market who are unemployed or underemployed or unemployed due to age discrimination or those who left IT during a period of unemployment following a bust cycle. Additionally, there are many more business users who could be trained in IT skills if necessary. Wadhwa believes these workers could be easily “skilled up” in the event of temporary shortages.

“If the demand was really there, if these critical shortages that Gartner is forecasting started to happen, guess what? Businesses would start sending some of their experienced users to technology school and a few months later they'd become technology experts who understand the business very well,” Wadhwa said. “So it’s a very shallow, very biased perspective that they've presented and I’m surprised that Gartner put something like this because there is a very deep pool of experienced talent out there which can be trained and which can understand the business side of IT.”

This article was originally published on 2008-03-05
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