A Depressed It Job Market? Hardly

Corporate layoffs are always big news; job creation and hiring streaks, however, rarely make headlines.

Corporate layoffs are always big news; job creation and hiring streaks, however, rarely make headlines. So forget, for one moment, headlines and news reports about slashed payrolls and the dot-com meltdown.

Lets look at the facts and the numbers behind the IT labor shortage in this country. U.S. unemployment figures remain at near-record lows. The latest figures from the government show 4.3 percent in March. White-collar unemployment, the category into which IT workers fall, is only slightly more than 1 percent.

Preliminary figures from the U.S. Department of Labor show that between February and March of this year, companies in the data processing and computer sector added a total of 12,000 jobs to their payrolls. Thats new jobs in March alone. In fact, the numbers show an increase of almost 100,000 jobs in the previous 12 months in the sector.

"When Can You Start," a new study that was released last month by the Information Technology Association of America, found that IT and non-IT employers will attempt to fill more than 900,000 new IT jobs this year.

However, the study forecasts a shortfall of 425,000 workers because of a continuing talent gap.

This data was scrupulously collected through interviews with 685 hiring managers in IT and non-IT companies in the United States, a sample size projectable to the overall U.S. marketplace.

While our study shows that demand is down from last year—one marked by record and unsustainable growth for the economy as a whole and the IT industry in particular—it also shows the IT labor market expanded by 4 percent in one year.

All but one of the 535 voting members of Congress agree with the facts. Congress voted to increase the number of H1-B visa holders to be admitted to the country each year to 195,000 from 115,000.

Two congressionally mandated panels formed to study the issue of the high-tech labor shortage last year found that there is no evidence of discrimination by the IT industry, and the panels endorsed the H1-B program as a temporary fix to help alleviate the shortage of U.S. workers.

Under the law, employers are required to pay H1-Bs the same or more than comparably situated U.S. workers.

Failure to do so results in major fines or debarment from the program.

Salaries paid to H1-Bs are public information. Anyone can file a complaint with the U.S. Department of Labor if he or she believes that salaries being paid to H1-B workers are below market wages. When a complaint is filed, the Department of Labor is required to investigate and prosecute bad actors.

Recently, the slowing economy has led to less overseas recruitment. Companies are still hungry for talent, and that talent is hired quickly as laid-off dot-com workers hit the market. Nevertheless, demand still far exceeds supply, making H1-Bs a critical stopgap.

If we do not fill the jobs needed in the IT arena, work will go overseas. We are already seeing offshore outsourcing proliferate due to bottom-line concerns. As we work to educate and train new U.S. workers, the H1-B temporary solution is the only way to keep profitable IT work on U.S. soil.