Technology job shortages and rocket science

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Business Week’s “The Great Tech Worker Divide” has an interesting look at the conundrum of technology workers here in the US not being able to find work while tech companies are continually complaining about not having enough skilled workers.

The article correctly points out that the need in the US is for much more highly skilled technology workers — software engineers, technology managers, and software architects — than entry or mid-level workers.

Here’s a typical (and fact-based) comment:

Microsoft’s Schofield feels the (technology job) shortages may get worse. Statistics show declining interest in tech degrees at all levels, and he is worried the hunt for talent will only get harder.

In math, science, and engineering, for example, 50% or more of the post-graduate degrees at U.S. universities are now awarded to foreign nationals. “Enrollment in computer science and engineering is dropping like a rock,” says Schofield. “There is already huge competition for people with really deep skills, and it will only get worse.”

Some specific data from the article:

  • Unemployment in the tech sector is 1.8% — but salaries in the sector are still below their level in 2000.
  • The number of computer programming positions in the U.S. has tumbled 25% since 2000.
  • Programmers and support specialists — the easiest categories to outsource — continue to shed positions. Computer programmer employment tumbled to 396,020 last year, from 530,730 in 2000.
  • The biggest job gains in information technology in the past year have been for software engineers, IT managers, and network systems analysts.

People are smart enough to get that companies are outsourcing tech jobs. Even though there is a shortage of tech workers, there has been no equivalent increase in wages to attract talent. Gen Y reads about this and opts out of a technology career — who needs the grief?

So there’s no money to be made by going into technology. In addition, you risk your position being outsourced at any time.

And to be a software engineer, IT manager or network systems analyst — from the job descriptions I’ve read — mean you need to have all of this great experience programming, providing support, and working your way through the technology skills food chain in order to get the right “deep” skills to qualify for the positions. You don’t learn those skills in some college; you need experience.

But you can’t get those skills here in the US any more. Consequently — surprise! — no one wants to go into the industry. Working on cool stuff is great: having a career with progression of skills from entry to senior levels means more.

Technology departments and companies broke that skills development path and now wonder why there is a shortage of “deeply” skilled workers and no one coming into the industry.

Well, it’s not rocket science.

  • Yes, there are tons of people who have experienced the same thing. It is one of the challenges here on Cube Rules to both protect people and their work from having this happen to them and helping them move on to something different. That is tough when the “new” retirement age is 59 instead of 65 due to layoffs and health reasons.

    Executives in corporations have become very short-sighted because of quarterly earnings and insulated from their employees and customers because of their employment contracts that pay millions if they fail. It’s not surprising that employees are looked at for producing widgets and career management is something companies don’t do.

    Good luck to you.

  • Still Angry says:

    I’m a retired electronics and software engineer. I learned the hard way how American capitalism works. I busted my ass for decades and created new devices that made my various corporate employers and their investors many millions of dollars. I was really good at what I did, a team player, and a total workaholic. Then I turned fifty and was “down-sized” out of a company I’d been with for over eighteen years. After that, several hundred resumes resulted in no interviews. After over a year of trying, I simply gave it up. Why would anyone hire a very experienced man who might need a week or two to get up to speed on whichever latest and greatest software package they’re using, when they can hire recent graduates with no practical engineering experience for less than half the price. America’s corporations don’t really need or want experienced talent with a proven track record — they want the innovators, whose greatest ideas are easily stolen while they’re still young, eager, and easily duped. If I had it to do over, I’d much rather be self-employed, than to ever trust another publicly held corporation that exists solely for the benefit of its over-paid management, the profit of its do-nothing investors, and to Hell with the loyal employees whose talent and hard work actually created the products that made all that profit-making possible. Bitter? You bet! …and there’s thousands out there just like me, who would advise young people to avoid the technology sector’s dead-end professions.

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