Tech & Work

Is the IT labor shortage a hoax?

A recent TechRepublic article described a new hiring initiative program designed to help meet the need for IT workers. But dozens of IT pros have recently written us complaining that the labor shortage is a hoax. Here's a sample of what they had to say.

TechRepublic’s recent article, “Feds fight IT labor shortage with training incentives,” really hit a nerve with a number of readers.

They took issue with a report released last year by the U.S. Department of Commerce, which found that up to 1.3 million high-tech workers will be needed between now and 2006.

We received dozens of e-mails from readers who said the IT labor shortage is a myth created by high-tech employers and the federal government. They insist that there are indeed plenty of qualified workers to fill open spots, but hiring managers are clueless. Here’s what some of our readers had to say.

“Over-the-hill” tech workers
According to a number of TechRepublic members, it’s nearly impossible to get hired if you’re over age 40. D. Meng said hiring managers, with their “Reagan cheapness,” neglect to look at the 40-plus labor market when they interview candidates.

“There are all kinds of schools out there that have trained people of all ages to do the jobs you require with a minimum of additional on-the-job training,” Meng says to them. “Those people are now going unemployed and yet you have the audacity to state that you cannot find qualified people. Maybe the company needs to terminate you and hire someone with brains.”

No matter how much you try, “you won't get hired unless you have a lot of experience and are under 25 years of age,” Scott wrote. “This is what I am finding out while going on interviews.”

Carvell suffers from the same detriment. Even with two years of Microsoft and Novell schooling, two years' experience as a tier-two desktop support tech, and another six months’ experience as a hardware technician building PCs and servers to specifications, he’s been unemployed for five months. “I've been on a number of interviews and tested,” he wrote. “I passed all the tests with above average scores, but still no offers. I have sent over 500 resumes to every lead I have gotten. Still no offers.”

Carvell added that his age shouldn’t be a factor, considering that everyone in the IT field does so much job-hopping.

“The only weakness in my resume is my age being 50, but in an age when job length is under five years, why should this be a detriment?” he wrote. “I see this whole labor shortage as a ploy to keep the schools active and to justify the importation of more labor with the resulting reduction of labor cost. That equates to lower salaries for all.”

Young workers and seniors earn low pay
Employers want a younger IT staff because they’ll work for less, others say.

“The problem is that there aren’t enough 20-year-old super-experts who will work for $20,000 a year,” Stuff wrote. “This seems to be the profile employers are looking for. There are experienced workers in their 40s who can't get a job. Employers want the benefits an IT expert gives them but they want it for free.”

D. Jackson believes that the skills and experience of senior citizens and retirees are being under-utilized in today’s job market.

“The industry should be making quantum efforts to keep or rehire them. A large number of them would enjoy the challenge of day-to-day help desk work, configuration and installation jobs, programming, and the myriad other tasks within the IT world.”

Unfortunately, Jackson said, those would-be senior workers can’t get a decent-paying job in the IT world.

“The big problem with hiring and retaining seniors is the compensation. Industry tends to think that it is doing seniors a big favor by hiring them,” Jackson wrote. “They offer insultingly low starting wages using the rationale that seniors are collecting a retirement check or two from previous employment and maybe even Social Security so the company can low-ball the pay. Some seniors will work for below-average compensation in order to keep active, but the majority want a competitive wage and benefits package for the use of their hard-earned skill.”

Hiring foreign workers isn't always the solution
Other readers, IT workers from the U.S., take offense at government efforts to bring in foreign skilled workers.

Greg said American-based companies simply want to save money by importing IT workers from other countries. “What they don't realize is that these workers have to interact with Americans using English. These workers often concentrate on their computer skills but not on their language or pronunciation skills. So what these companies think they are saving in labor costs they are losing in collaborative efforts because of the language barrier.”

Mismatched skills and retraining existing workers
Part of the problem with hiring managers, readers say, is that they want to hire workers who already have the exact skill set needed. What they should be doing instead is retraining workers and empowering them to get the necessary skills, readers insist. Kicks, a Canadian reader, said employers are defining jobs so narrowly, it’s no wonder they can't find anyone to fit the profile.

“Without two years' experience…no one will look at you. And it’s not just a minimum of two years' experience, it’s two years doing the specific job duties they want to hire for,” Kicks wrote. “I retrained as an MCSE two years ago and have many years in the computer industry, and I'm having a very hard time finding suitable employment. I even know one MCSE who now installs cable TV. Give a guy a chance, or enhance his training. It may surprise you.”

Four-year degree or experience—what’s more valuable?
Al, who has three years of experience as a system administrator and five years as a consultant, has been out of work for two months.

“I don't see any shortage of IT talent out there, only lots of employers who do not want to hire anyone without a four-year degree,” Al wrote. “They narrowly define the job they are hiring for and if you can get an interview, it is usually through some outfit that contracts and takes so much off the top that there is no living wage left for you. You cannot get the entry-level jobs, because you are ‘overqualified.’”

Luvbug’s problem is just the opposite: She spent all of her time and energy on a four-year IT degree but doesn’t have the experience employers are looking for. She’s unemployed at 26.

“The employers just don't seem to have room for entry-level employees,” she wrote. "They are looking for three or more years of experience, someone who will work 50-plus hours a week and weekends. They may say they will train, but in reality, the training is all up to the employee to do after they go home."

She continued, “In the IT field you are expected to be extremely aggressive. There needs to be some respect for work and family balance, especially for moms.”

Hiring managers’ unrealistic expectations
Some readers believe employers have unrealistic expectations of job applicants.

“I know 12 languages and a number of machines, and learning a new one is a matter of a few weeks,” Wizodd wrote. “HR always seems to want to hire someone who can walk in off the street and know the system cold. I am expected to know any peripheral device attached to any system, without training or even having seen it before. If I tried to stay trained for what the market wants, I'd still be training as the target constantly moves. Of course, I am still in training anyway, on my own time and money.”

A technical recruiter in Tampa, FL, wrote that IT in a corporate setting is handled by human resource departments that don’t really understand technology. “They wouldn't know a database from a programming language,” Tampa wrote. "They get a job description from the department head and try to find exactly what is handed to them, which is usually someone’s wish list. Too many times, I have looked at a job requirement and shook my head at an employer looking for more years of experience than the skill has even existed, and they want someone who is willing to take the job under market.”
Is the IT labor shortage myth or reality? Are you a manager without enough skilled workers or a tech veteran who can’t find a job? Tell us about your experience by posting a comment below. If you have a story idea you’d like to share, drop us a note.

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