IT Employment

IT skill shortage: Where's the hard evidence?

Where is the hard evidence that there aren’t enough skilled IT workers in the market to fill industry demand?

It seems that everywhere you look these days there is some industry pundit or executive telling us that there aren't enough skilled IT workers in the market to fill industry demand. But where is the hard evidence of this assertion?

Some groups -- including economists, academics, and industry experts -- are starting to challenge the statement. Baseline Magazine writer Ericka Chickowski talks about what some people are doing to find out the real story. Her latest piece talks about one effort, led by Vivek Wadhwa, a professor for Duke University's Master of Engineering Management Program and a former technology CEO. Chickowski quotes Wadhwa:

"This whole concept of shortages is bogus, it shows a lack of understanding of the labor pool in the USA."

In one study, Wadhwa and his group asked HR professionals a number of questions that would determine their experiences with the issue of availability of qualified workers. What they conveyed was very different from their executive's opinions on skills shortages, showing there was no lack of qualified applicants.

Chickowski says this study is backed up by other studies conducted by RAND Corporation, The Urban Institute, and Stanford University.

Also, according to the article, one expert poured over data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics and concluded that:

...the United States has consistently graduated more than enough computer scientists and engineers to fill the IT jobs available in the country.

Similarly, he has seen no unemployment rates to indicate any kind of IT worker shortage.

So what's the deal on this? Do you think this IT skill shortage mantra is a deliberate attempt to mislead? If so, what are the motives behind it?

About

Toni Bowers is Managing Editor of TechRepublic and is the award-winning blogger of the Career Management blog. She has edited newsletters, books, and web sites pertaining to software, IT career, and IT management issues.

75 comments
gcoppedge
gcoppedge

The only IT skill 'shortage' in the US is the pool of qualified IT people willing to work for low wages. Of course, there is a 'shortage' when graduates have huge student loans to pay, but firms are only willing to pay these college grads like they were high school dropouts! And it's not just the US with the skills 'shortage'. There are similar 'shortages' all over Europe, according to European govts. Siemens fires workers in its German homeland and then rehires the exact same positions in Eastern Europe at less than half the wage rates.

BALTHOR
BALTHOR

If Colleges taught computer courses would we be seeing any computer virus at all?

rakesh_vkt
rakesh_vkt

I don't care what the real reason is, One thing is for sure - software engineers are commodities.I remember going to school in india and on the way used to see this labourers lined up for jobs near a construction site.when the supervisor used to arrive these laborers used to run kicking and hitting each other just to get the job.This same thing is happenin to software engineers in the h1 market. Advise to americans - Please stick to your manegerial jobs.Truth is software market is scwered up.

glisk
glisk

You have to read between the lines here. There is no shortage of IT people but there *is* a shortage of _cheap_ IT people. So executives demand a cheap supply of labor and try to import indentured servents to keep supply and demand from really working the way it should.

BALTHOR
BALTHOR

Some of these guys insist on using logic.

No User
No User

The short answer is that there is absolutely no possible way that America has a shortage of skilled IT workers. I must make a distinction that there is a difference between being skilled and trained/certified. Meaning that most folks have the skills but lack the professional training and certifications. The company Executives don't need an excuse to out source but in this case I think they have blown so much smoke and have shown so much greed that they could have fooled themselves into actually believing their own BS, they told a lie so often they now believe it. That would not be unbecoming of those pointy headed business people. It was just a week or so ago big Bill "Gates" told congress that unless H1B visa's were increased America would need to export more jobs to places like India do to the skilled IT workers shortage. He also said if we didn't then America would lose it's competitive advantage in high tech. Congress responded by tripling the amount of H1B visa's and I believe even more so for folks who have advanced degrees. One of the biggest problems America faces as far as skilled high tech people goes is the absolutely ridicules cost of professional training. That and they tech just about squat about IT at the bachelor degree level. Two to five day courses cost between $2295.00 and $3295.00 for things like Cisco products. When 2 days of training can cost over $2000.00 it is just so far beyond ridicules it's pathetic. Yet some how enormous numbers of folks from very poor third world countries can afford the full boat of specialized training. How is that possible? Are American companies paying for that training in order to get cheaper labor? This is the very first time in over twenty years I'm going to get significant IT training on the company's "dime" and I am in the middle of arranging for 2 of us to get 11 Cisco classes each and it will cost over $40,000.00 and each class is 2-5 days. They said that they need 4-6 people to justify having a class (Ya Right) so we will need to wait until they have enough for each one before they will schedule it. They have dates but those are conditional on the classes having enough students to justify them. Can you believe that? I think about 1/10 of that price and 2 people would be more then enough for them to make a nice profit. I don't mean to sound ungrateful for finally getting the training that I should have received at least 8 years ago and I certainly recognize the ridicules cost of that training and thus the burden on the company. But it is several years late and we/I have suffered greatly because of that. It's one thing to find on your own what you must have, it's much better to be shown what you should have. It's the age old mentality of trying to turn IT into a profit center. When IT folks get trained the company they work for either buy the products which is one thing and then use them at a lower cost of ownership or they sell the products and support them, that is the true IT profit center. But then you are dealing with pointy headed business people. It's quite difficult to wrap a pointy head around anything. ;) When a CEO (Citibank) gets a reported $161 million for loosing over $11 billion for the company every IT person should not only have a job but the starting salary for any IT job should be six figures and all the training should be free. In fact it should be necessary for every company to train IT people in order to purchase, sell or use IT products. What ever certifications training or courses that are associated with the products that training should be part of the product purchase price. Instead we are typically forced to train our selves. That would certainly put an end to any skilled IT workers short fall. The poor CEO's and other executives may have to find a way to live with only 3 corporate jets and 5 multi million dollar houses, they may even need to settle for being millionaires instead of billionaires but I think some how they would find a way to survive. The bottom line is if they are genuinely concerned all they need to do is buy their way out of the situation that they intentionally caused.

JohnMcGrew
JohnMcGrew

...of people who've spent 5 or 6 years in school willing to work for only $40k.

nwoodson
nwoodson

As if HR has a concept of what skill set is actually necessary to accomplish an IT mission. All they know is that management tells them that they want a lot that they can pay the least for. As a result, HR looks at the list of candidates that match the pie-in-the-sky notion from management and says, 'Gee, we can't find anyone that you would want'. Hence, a notional shortage that makes for great press and stirs fear of a "shortage". Typical American economics....create the shortage then go cheap on a solution to prove that anything can be contained by creative accounting.

Canuckster
Canuckster

There is a shortage of IT workers. A shortage of IT workers willing to work for minimum wage that is. In the same way that there is a shortage of CEO's. A shortage of CEO's willing to work for minimum wage that is.

wcrosby
wcrosby

It's pure and simple a program to replace qualified Americans with lower-cost foreign young males. In other words -- Age and National Origin discrimination.

KestrelVt
KestrelVt

It is a known fact that imported workers are paid 10-15,000 less than US workers. It is outsoircing within the country thats all it is.

ShBir
ShBir

I don't believe there's an IT worker shortage, perse. I do think that with the proliferation of entry level jobs being outsourced, it creates a situation where there are fewer people able to fill mid and upper level positions. This is a problem the tech companies have created. If they want to change it, they should open up entry-level and lower-mid level positions to local candidates.

karen
karen

I think the answer depends a lot on what level of the IT department structure you're looking at. From what I've seen it seems like candidates for entry-level positions such as helpdesk and desktop support are plentiful, but when you get to tier 2 and 3, the number of qualified candidates really starts to drop. It seems like fewer and fewer people are willing to put in the hard work it takes to develop the skillset to be either a Sr. Systems Administrator or Network Engineer. I think part of the problem has to do with the fact that in a lot of companies, once you reach that level, the only path of advancement leads you out of the technical side of IT and into management, so those who can climb the ladder out of these positions and those who can't generally don't make it to that level to begin with.

Dukhalion
Dukhalion

The same claims are made in my country. Yet whenever there is a vacancy there are literally hundreds of skilled applicants regardless of the requirements. I have checked this to be true many times. The real reason is this: by claiming that there is a shortage of competent workers the employers can press down the wages as much as they like. I have been in the computer business for over twenty years, as programmer, as installer, as repairer, as techsupport etc. etc. I have recently been searching for a new job and I don't even get as far as the interview. So the shortageclaim is false. The really important question is: what can we, who are skilled, do about it? Not much it seems, since it is the wrong people who get to make the decisions. That's why so much in the computerbusiness is so shoddy. They usually employ the least expensive (skilled) person, with disastrous results. Wypfiwyg, what you pay for is what you get.

BALTHOR
BALTHOR

It seems that most people do not even know how to turn a computer on.Who is doing all of this website construction,program writing,computer animation,digital music and network setup?Somebody is working ver hard.

jkameleon
jkameleon

IT skill shortage shouting is a bad omen. It's the loudest just before recession, and the next big wave of layoffs & offshoring. Near the end of 1990s it was exactly the same. Remember the ITAA's Great Programmer Shortage PR campaign? http://www.programmersguild.org/archives/lib/shortage/index.htm Number of programming jobs keeps falling ever since. 250000 in the USA alone, if my memory serves me right.

CG IT
CG IT

not sure how many companies need computer scientists and certainly the term "engineer" invokes the idea of somoneone designing computers. Not sure if companies need a computer designer. Certainly what companies need are IT people who are generalists. A skill set that has seen a dramatic decline as the complexity of computer networking has risen. IT has become an industry in itself, except that instead of selling a product, the industry is employed by companies. If you look at the help ads, companies today say they need a security specialist, a Active Directory administrator, a network engineer [which typically means a Cisco guy] help desk/customer service for IT, desktop support specialist, database administrators, database programmers, Web site designers, web site administrators, Email [Exchange] engineers. Email administrators, and so forth. All these people who often want large salaries for a job that is supposed to support workers who actually do the work that makes the company $$. Degreed people with no experience can't fill the demand for experienced IT guys. Often the IT guys with real world experience don't have degrees in IT.

JohnMcGrew
JohnMcGrew

Science and engineering expertise is. Knowing computers is worthless if you don't know how to do anything else.

dawgit
dawgit

I do believe that in the time since I went to College, they do Now teach folks about 'puters. In fact, I've even heard a certain level of familuarity was required. (to accomplish such silly things as 'home work' and other asignments) I've even heard that it's a major study in some colleges. (like most of them) Though, it's hard to tell some times, with some of what I see kids doing now days. But, what has that to do with seeing computer viruses? Do you think that if every one was a Computer Doctor, there would be no "Sick Computers?. :D -d

Locrian_Lyric
Locrian_Lyric

..and is consistant with what I've heard from other Indians.

Locrian_Lyric
Locrian_Lyric

for so little pay. It's the same damn arguement they use to justify the influx of illegals. Oh, we want to work, we also want luxuries such as food, clothing, and shelter.

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

a shortage of people who are willing to spnd 5/6 years in school to earn 40k

network admin
network admin

.. everyone started at the bottom. If no one is given the chance, there will never be experienced people. Common sense! The way the IT shortage in my area was explained to me was the company's are concerned because there are not enough graduates to replace the baby boomer's. The major company's here are trying to get a program together to get junior high and high school students interested in IT. Its a "big thing" right now. I was lucky enough to get a Network Admin job and I'm still in school.

Professor8
Professor8

So, according to the Plain Dealer, 80% of the IT jobs in that area are not advertised, and they aren't willing to fly anyone in or relocate anyone from anywhere else. The suffering of those pooor overpaid executives is just unbearable. The very thought that they might have to actually take out ads means that they must be very desperate. Garrrrrumph!

Professor8
Professor8

Nope, there's no shortage of middle career and senior people, either, though there are a lot of bright, well- educated, experienced people who are suffering from age discrimination.

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

No apprentices means no journeymen, no journeymen means no masters... Not surprising the entire drive for IT in business has been to take the skill out of it and turn out a bunch of cheap ass glorified clerks, been happening since Y2K and the .dot com boom. There was always going to be payback for the amount of p1ss 'we' took out of business during that period. It will turn around once the skills shortage becomes real. I expect one possibly two more booms before I retire. It's just the market, managed it goes mediocre, unmanaged you get boom and bust. The IT salary boom will come when very few people are taking it up as a career, it's being held off with H1B style programs and offshoring, but all they are doing is postponing a much bigger hit. Then business will be wringing their hands crying for guvmint help and blaming academia. I'll be buying a wheelbarrow and hiring a media studies graduate to cart my salary home, again :D

Professor8
Professor8

If you want another sys admin, then train a receptionist or secretary. That's what we did in Minnesota. And they did a good job of it. If you want a network admin, then train a sys admin or tech support person. It's tedious and nerve-wracking sometimes, but not all that difficult. It shouldn't require a bachelor's degree in CS or CE. Designing networking equipment and software is another matter, but how many places do that?

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

The fact that management is a technical advancement is indeed a problem. It isn't a lack on their part though. Indeed you meet more crap techs in management positions than you do good ones. It's a completely different skillset! The sort of person who works hard to become a senior IT anything, is interested in and enjoys technology not management. That's where their skills lie. Given the armoured glass ceilings that have been put into place. Things like H1B. The massive drop in salaries. The fact that businesses will happily employ some muppet who crammed in three certs in a week instead of someone with three years in. The hirers in the main wouldn't know a good tech from a bad one. A shocking lack of entry level positions. IT is no longer seen as a viable career. Well, you get what you pay for... Don't invest in something for a while, and there is less of it. Not rocket science is it.

Magic Alex
Magic Alex

take away their internets.. seriously tho, we are the IT professionals, why can't we do something about it?

Dr_Zinj
Dr_Zinj

Depress wages, increase individual workload, justify biased hiring decisions. There is one solution to the problem. I.T. workers would have to engage in a professional guild, similar to the ones doctors formed, to have tight control over the production of new I.T. workers allowed to practice, and to keep the supply down o keep wages up.

jkameleon
jkameleon

> The real reason is this: by claiming that there is a shortage of competent workers the employers can press down the wages as much as they like. That's the 1st real reason. The second are university tuitions. 50% drop in computer science enrollments since 2000 means 50% less tuition money for universities, and that hurts a lot. That's why all the skill shortage lobbying groups like ACM or now infamous ITAA are joint ventures of IT industry and universities. The real eye opener are these numbers from IEEE http://www.ieeeusa.org/policy/policy/2003/061803.html See table 2. Like it or not, right or wrong- barring the unlikely event of PPT equalizing throughout the globe, the purely technical jobs in developed world are a losing game.

ws3d
ws3d

CG, you hit it out of the park. Nothing wrong with a degree, but there is a bigger need for for IT folks who have done a little of everything. This situation is roughly analogous to the medical profession where so many doctors shun becoming general practitioners in favor of specializing.

JohnMcGrew
JohnMcGrew

...until shareholder boards figure it all out, and start importing CEOs at half the going rate.

JohnMcGrew
JohnMcGrew

...when there are so many careers that are easier to get into any pay so much more?

CG IT
CG IT

and I have had trouble getting an job as an employee by virtue of not having a degree. HR people would rather have a degreed person WITH years experience and pay at a lower rate. The real kicker is how they present jobs. Often the job description appears to be a Windows Admin/Engineer job who knows AD, but when you get there and interview, what they really want is a Windows Admin/Engineer who is a programmer who can manage their SQL DBs.

chidubemba
chidubemba

Stuggy, I hope you were referring to helpdesk administration. Some system administration roles require expertise in UNIX, Linux, Windows and Mac internals. The DOD contractor I work for will not even look at your resume if you do not have both formal and informal education in the CIS/MIS area.

jmgarvin
jmgarvin

Unless you have really tech savvy receptionists, that is a BAD idea. Being a sys admin is some baby sitting, but it is also a lot of scripting, updating, documenting, fire putting outing, and general maintenance.

jmgarvin
jmgarvin

of what? I donno, but you've hit the nail on the head. Too many muppets not enough reality...Makes for very good times

jmgarvin
jmgarvin

The ACM and IEEE have sold out...It would be nice, but unless we can get a leash on our professional organizations, I don't think there is much hope of getting a true professional guild.

Professor8
Professor8

A tiny fraction of guest-workers apply for green cards. While the applications are pending they are especially prone to be abused (low pay, work hours, etc.) because of difficulty of changing employer/sponsor before the green card is obtained. So, to help out that tiny fraction of one percent, IEEE-USA has declared that the H-1B should be made permanent, that 400K should be issued each year, i.e. essentially unlimited. This would be disastrous. It would drive down compensation for all STEM workers in the USA, permanently. Instead, we should be talking about limiting the numbers of E-3, F, H, J, and L visas to more reasonable levels. I include the F (student) and J (exchange) visas into the mix because they are feeders into the E, H & L guest-work visa pipe-lines. The stories saying that the USA should not educate foreign students and then send them all home are correct, not because we should let even more stay, but because we shouldn't be letting so many foreign students into the USA in the first place.

Professor8
Professor8

They're definitely not recruiting generalists anymore. But I will go along that there are very few job ads for product developers, and a lot for people to provide in- house IT services, or to be body shopped. Someone who knows X, but doesn't know version z.a.b of brand Y of X won't be considered. In some cases, they'll reject someone who developed another X, but want a super-user of version z.a.b of brand Y of X. I suspect the general ads are from the body shops that don't know what contracts they'll have yet. They want to have a stable lined up for when the time comes.

Locrian_Lyric
Locrian_Lyric

When I was working at a newspaper named after a street in New York City, the IT workers were calling for the outsourcing of the CIO! LOL! The CIO did ruin the company as he saw outsourcing to be a silver bullet. Too bad that silver bullet went right into his foot. heh!

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

Logo ! Ask not what your company can do for you, but what you can do for it. Not a clue mate, I wouldn't even get out of bed for that sort of money.

Magic Alex
Magic Alex

i had to teach half my class in college because they couldn't understand it from the teacher

Locrian_Lyric
Locrian_Lyric

Oh, and *this* 'unlettered' individual has raked many a young pup know it all over the coals. ever had to teach a college grad how to write a for-next loop? I have.

jmgarvin
jmgarvin

but have a couple!!?? OOOOHHHH NOOOO!! ;-) Really, HR puts too much weight on degrees. You want to know the kicker? In the US we don't always "count" degrees from other nations. So if you moved from the UK to the US, your degree may or may not be a "degree." Good times

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

Twenty plus. Can't compete with the graduated newbies, too thick to get a degree and not dumb enough to take that much of a pay cut. :D

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

Guild master of the local turd polishers chapter at the moment.

ws3d
ws3d

...do you think this is a direct result of HR/body shops not being up to speed on the current technical needs of business? I have heard so much about how IT needs to 'support the business objectives of the company' or words to that effect, but I don't see the business side, on the whole, doing very much to solve their technology ignorance.