On Dec. 5, a special forum in Washington will take up discussion on declining U.S. college enrollments in science and technology and the impact that has on what many perceive to be an already-large IT labor shortage.
The forum, part of the Hamilton Project and sponsored by the Brookings Institution, is certainly worthwhile. It comes in the wake of a visit by Robert Cresanti, U.S. commerce undersecretary for technology, to eWEEKs editorial offices, where Cresanti confirmed both an IT labor shortage and a skills gap. Because of these shortfalls, Cresanti said that, without question, foreign workers are needed and that the government should promote training of IT workers.
The problem isnt a lack of government concern, as Cresanti and others make clear. Its a lack of focus on what needs fixing. Every time the IT work force is believed to be too small or insufficiently skilled, government, prodded by technology companies, turns its eyes overseas first.
Approximately six years ago, the federal government was goaded by vendor-backed lobbyists into dramatically increasing the quota on H-1B visas, which allow skilled foreign workers to come to the United States to take jobs that supposedly cant be filled with talent here. The thought of government officials at the time was that any job that touched the Internet was one that had to be filled by a traditional IT worker. From that perspective, the labor market seemed to be facing a shortfall to the tune of 1 million IT workers. But no sooner was the visa quota raised threefold than the tech bubble burst, and the job market turned. Suddenly, many newly arrived H-1B workers were no longer needed.
As talks about an IT labor shortage and skills gap renew, the government must look not offshore but, rather, within the United States. Its time to wholeheartedly promote careers in technology and engineering and provide educational assistance to those entering the fields. Before looking first offshore, we must think hard about how we might move the American IT work force from Point A to Point B—filling the right jobs, and with the right skills, to meet corporate demands now and for the next few years.
To this end, we urge the granting of generous tax credits to companies that provide technology training and tax deductions to workers who take technology training. Foreign countries that are sending workers to the United States in droves have long maintained policies geared to generating engineering graduates. Its time for the United States to follow suit.
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eWeeks Editorial Board consists of Jason Brooks, Peter Coffee, Stan Gibson, Scot Petersen and David Weldon.
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