In my last blog I outlined three alternatives to extending the U.S. H1-B visas for high-tech workers. These included: boosting science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education; changing perceptions about IT careers, and retraining current workers.
As a good indication of supply and demand gaps, at the RSA Conference in February, the Department of Homeland Security (DOHS) Deputy Under Secretary for Cybersecurity, Mark Weatherford, emphasized the need to develop more cybersecurity talent in the United States. Good IT security professionals are in high demand, he told attendees.
Weatherford also said DOHS hopes to address the skills gap in the security industry by attracting young people. He urged those in attendance to invest in after-school programs focused on hacking and computer programming. "The government needs to figure out how to make security a little cooler so people gravitate to it," he said. (Read about Mark’s actions while he was CISO of the State of California, here.)
Clearly, messages are mixed about choosing an IT career today. InformationWeek’s recent Salary Survey results conclude, for example, that while “application development is widely viewed as a desirable profession ... many developers no longer view the field in a favorable light. As the U.S. economy continues its slow recovery, developers have seen further erosion in benefits, company-paid training, annual compensation increases and job security.” (Read more and download the IWK survey here.)
Stemming the STEM Drain, Attracting Young People
Insufficient STEM education is partly to blame for the shortage of qualified IT workers — and it’s a problem in other countries, as well.
A new report from the Australian Industry (Ai) group has found a shortage of key STEM skills among the current and emerging workforce that, it says "is holding back Australian employers in their quest to be more innovative, productive and competitive." The report, "Lifting our Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) skills," surveyed more than 500 businesses from across the economy.
The root cause of this problem is the so-called skills shortage, especially in the IT industry. The number of students taking Computer Studies at A-Level continues to fall, for example, and a recent report revealed that some 16 million people in the U.K. lack basic online skills.
It shouldn't be this way. Computer Studies is one of the most innovative and exciting spaces to work in. The British technology sector is also vital to the U.K. economy, contributing £140 billion annually (equivalent to 12 percent of GDP). In essence, bright young students who turn a blind eye to the industry should look again.
Colin goes on to cite several examples, such as the eSkills organization, that are “working tirelessly to make sure Britain is getting the technology skills it needs to succeed, as well as encouraging more women to pursue careers in IT.”
Legislation Falls Short
Back in the U.S., senators leading the immigration reform efforts and promoting an expansion of H1-B visas “had the right idea in supporting efforts to increase STEM education in the United States as part of the immigration reform package,” writes The Hill blog.
“But it’s hard to imagine that raising the cap on H-1B visas that allow companies to employ foreigners in U.S. STEM-based jobs will lead to any meaningful improvement in STEM education for U.S. students or in American workers’ ability to compete for these jobs in the future.”
“Disappointingly, both the money devoted to U.S. STEM education under these provisions, and the policies attached to them, amount to little more than lip-service to solve the problem of long-term education reform and economic competitiveness,” the blog concludes.
These are surely difficult economic times, and digital automation trends are accelerating at alarming rates. Today’s jobs of all types may be replaced by robots, and corporate data centers continue be displaced by the cloud and BYOD trends. That’s why, at this important time, politicians, educators and business leaders must consider all options for investing in the future and creating as many meaningful, well-paid local IT jobs as possible.
What are your thoughts? Are you currently looking for an IT job? Share your experiences and solutions with your peers.
Alternatives to H1-B Visas: Part 2
Editor and Community Manager
Smart Enterprise Exchange