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We’re Hurting Ourselves

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.

We’re hurting ourselves
No matter what the motives for promoting belief in an IT skills shortage, those who contradict that belief say that the perpetuation of such a myth will sting the industry in the end.

“What should NOT be done is to take actions that will increase the supply of scientists and engineers that are not intimately coupled with serious measures to ensure that comparable increases occur in the demand for scientists and engineers,” Teitelbaum told Congress.

Already job volatility is increasingly discouraging the best and the brightest from entering IT in favor of other more lucrative fields such as investment banking and medicine, Hira said.

“The risks in terms of job volatility is there, plus then you overlay things like outsourcing of jobs and the breakdown of employment relations between employer and worker and also if you believe that technological changes are happening faster then the risk obsolescence by the worker is even higher,” Hira said. “If you're out of work for six months or a year are you going to be obsolete or at least perceived to be obsolete by an employer and I think those risks have increased quite dramatically and if you think about risk and reward from an investment point of view, we don't see a concurrent increase in the reward side in the wages to justify those risks.”

Hira believes that the illusion of a shortage has already done harm by helping the industry sneak past politicians for increases in H1-B guest foreign worker visas in an immigration system that Hira believes is broken.

“We have a system with certain criteria set out—the H1-B has requirements—the problem is they're so loosely written that in fact those workers can be substitutes for American workers and in effect American workers can be forced to train the workers who are on H1-B to replace them,” Hira said. “So that certainly runs counter to both common sense in terms of what the programs are supposed to do; but also what the publicly stated goals are both by politicians as well as by the lobbies.”

In addition to this flood of temporary foreign workers on U.S. soil, there is also the offshore outsourcing effect to contend with, which has been largely justified as a way to work around the shortage.

“You've seen cases around where they've gone offshore, folks on shore either started to leave or been laid off people are highly demoralized and now they're finding things aren't working quite as well as they've hoped,” Salzman said. “The perception out there is that the future is uncertain.”

In both cases these efforts have flooded the market with lower-cost foreign workers who are supplanting an already ample field of home-grown IT labor. The result is that the myth of an IT skills shortage could just end up be self-perpetuating.

“The trouble is that it creates a disincentive for Americans to study these technical fields,” Wadhwa said. “We're hurting ourselves; computer science enrollment is dropping because the incentive is not there for students to study computer science.”

This article was originally published on 2008-03-05
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