Is There a Shortage of U.S. Tech Workers?: Page 2

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The controversy over H-1B visas is far from black and white, she says. Many industry partisans want a yes or no to the question of issuing more H-1Bs. However, “The answer might be yes, as long at it’s one way to potentially offset a shortage of skill sets.” In reality, there may be multiple answers to this question.

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Adding to the complexity of the issue, technology constantly reinvents itself, she notes. “.NET wasn’t in existence five years ago. Web 2.0 has kind of been the hot buzz within the last 12 months.” In the constantly churning IT marketplace, full of unknowns (what’s next on the horizon, how quickly will it be adopted?) the workforce is necessarily left scrambling to fill holes.

Which means workers – American or foreign – must run to keep up. “It’s very much the responsibility of those in information technology to keep their skill sets current,” Lee says. Attorneys and accountants are required by law to take continuing education classes. Tech pros are left to their own initiative.

“That’s what I see people get the most turned around about,” she says. “They’ll say, ‘Why would we bring in people from other countries?’ Maybe because they have a skill set that we don’t have here – or enough of here.”

The Global Fuel

Zeus Kerravala, a Yankee Group analyst who covers IT employment trends, notes that in the highly competitive tech market, companies seek the best talent regardless of nationality.

“Is there a shortage of [American] tech workers? Not really, but I think what U.S. companies are always striving for is the best employee,” he says.

It’s hard to fault a company that finds a qualified candidate that’s not an American and needs an H-1B visa to hire them, he says. And at any rate, companies that want to select from overseas candidates will always find a way to do so, regardless of the number of H-1B visas.

Going a step further, some experts say it’s in America’s best interest to import as much tech talent as possible. The U.S. “needs to be the place in the world where the most skilled workers want to come,” says John Challenger, CEO of global outplacement firm Challenger, Gray and Christmas.

“It’s crucial to our long-term success as an economy,” he tells Datamation. “It’s the fuel, more than oil – which we’re happy to import – of a post-industrial economy.”

Offshoring Looms

Some argue that if companies can’t bring foreign tech workers to the U.S., they’re more motivated to offshore their operations. So increasing the number of H-1B visas might actually stem the loss of American IT jobs. Furthermore, the U.S. currently allows a mere 65,000 H-1B visas annually, a small number in relation to the domestic tech industry.

But whatever the benefits of foreign talent, U.S. workers fear that they’ll depress wages. There’s an element of truth to that argument, Kerravala says.

If importing foreign workers is being used to lower wages, “It hurts all the other people in that position,” he says. And it may even hurt the employer, if low-paid employees leave to get higher wages.

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