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Motives Behind Shortage Promotion

By Ericka Chickowski  |  Posted 2008-03-05 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.

Motives behind shortage promotion
So if there is no quantitative evidence pointing to a skills shortfall, why are there so many claims to the contrary? Teitelbaum asked that rhetorical question in front of Congress last fall.

“So why, you might ask, do you continue to hear energetic re-assertions of the conventional portrait of 'shortages,' shortfalls, failures of K-12 science and math teaching, declining interest among US students, and the necessity of importing more foreign scientists engineers?” he said. “In my judgment, what you are hearing is simply the expressions of interests by interest groups and their lobbyists. Interest groups that are well organized and funded have the capacity to make their claims heard by you (in Congress), either directly or via echoes in the mass press. Meanwhile those who are not well-organized and funded can express their views, but only as individuals.”

Hira also believes that the promotion of what he calls the shortage “myth” supports several group’s political and business objectives, whether true or not.

“There’s no data that one can point to that indicates a shortage outside of the opinions of interested parties,” Hira said. “I don't know why they're making these statements outside of for political gain and for their own interests.”

In the case of industry business people, the motive is to get the Feds to loosen immigration restrictions for cheap foreign labor, to increase supply of workers in order to reduce labor costs and to justify offshore outsourcing efforts, Hira said.

“If industry would work cooperatively with worker groups in identifying real areas that are emerging where they believe there will be demand and working with universities then you could then have a more responsive system,” Hira said. “But instead they throw out the foreign guest worker thing every single time, so it’s hard to believe that they are serious about this when they use this for political gain. Adjusting the foreign guest worker program is the primary solution that they are looking for.”

He’s not alone in his beliefs about these motives.

“They want to justify whatever business actions they're taking or they want to take,"  Wadhwa said. “In this case you have companies are going over seas and they’re trying to say, 'Look it isn't us, it’s the fact that American education is not graduating enough engineers. This is why we are doing it.'”

Meanwhile, universities are also set on perpetuating the shortage perception because they themselves are promoting their business interests, Hira said.

During the last tech boom many universities staffed up in order to churn out enough students to meet IT’s then-growing demand for applicants. Now that that has leveled off many universities are overstaffed for the current crop of students. They want to put students in seats in order to keep the lights on.

“You've got a lot of faculty and university administrators that have a lot of faculty resources tied up in those fields and certainly not enough students and so they want to encourage people to get into those fields and attract students,” Hira said.

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