Professionals, Employers Point Fingers Over ‘Skills Gap’

While data from Microsoft indicates more than 120,000 new computing positions are created in the U.S. each year, only 40,000 bachelor’s degrees in Computer Science are annually awarded.

Job SkillsAccording to CIO’s Gary Beach, the existence of a tech skills gap is supported by salary data showing that employers will bid up for employees. PayScale, for example, says salaries for IT jobs are rising 5.1 percent per year. That’s a rate 45 percent higher than the average U.S. job.

The Biggest Gaps

According to CompTIA, the biggest skills gaps are in security/cybersecurity, network infrastructure, Big Data, server/data center management and data analytics/business intelligence. One thing some job seekers may not like is that often-maligned soft skills – such as an ability to communicate, to write clearly and work well with others — are also major factors in landing an IT job.

Accusing Employers

While employers wring their hands over the lack of qualified candidates, tech professionals say the root of the problem lies with their workloads: They are simply overworked to the point where they can’t focus on updating their skills. However, Beach argues, taking that attitude may be a mistake in this age of globalization. Wind Info, a Chinese research firm, says that by the end of the year more Chinese workers will be working in services jobs than manufacturing. Let’s not forget that “services” includes tech.

Economists and academics refute the idea of a skills gap. In speaking to Beach, Dr. Peter Capelli, a professor of management at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, said employers are often overly selective and are “demanding more of job candidates than ever before. They want prospective workers to be able to fill a role right away without any training. To get a job, you have to have a job already.” He blames “stingy” employers for creating the problem, since they “can’t get candidates to accept jobs at the wages offered.” The issue, he says, “is an affordability problem, not a skills shortage.”

21 Responses to “Professionals, Employers Point Fingers Over ‘Skills Gap’”

  1. Fred Bosick

    “However, Beach argues, taking that attitude may be a mistake in this age of globalization. Wind Info, a Chinese research firm, says that by the end of the year more Chinese workers will be working in services jobs than manufacturing. Let’s not forget that “services” includes tech.”

    In other words, be glad you get three loaves of bread after a day of breaking rocks, a Chinese guy will do it for two!

    There is no skills shortage, merely a pay shortage.

  2. “While data from Microsoft indicates more than 120,000 new computing positions are created in the U.S. each year, only 40,000 bachelor’s degrees in Computer Science are annually awarded.”
    And if you consider that there are 8million unemployed tech workers, that would take ten years before there’s a shortage of workers in the field 🙂

    “Job SkillsAccording to CIO, the existence of a tech skills gap is supported by salary data showing that employers will bid up for employees. PayScale, for example, says salaries for IT jobs are rising 5.1 percent per year. That’s a 45 percent higher than the average U.S. job.”
    I’m sure I’m not alone that I got no pay raise from 1999 to 2009, so the increase is still just making up for lost time, and i think I have about 5-7 years of like raises to get back to where I was.

    “the biggest skills gaps are in security/cybersecurity, network infrastructure, Big Data, server/data center management and data analytics/business”
    Hard to really call it a skill gap when you change the name of something then ask for that new term on a resume without considering the older name for the exact same skill.

    “The issue, [Dr. Peter Capelli] says, “is an affordability problem, not a skills shortage.”
    Sounds about right to me. 🙂

    • Quote: “there are 8million unemployed tech workers”

      Given that there are 11.3 millions unemployed total in US, it is hard to believe that 8 millions of them are tech workers. Even if you count blue collar assembly line workers.

      • 8 million may be an exaggeration, but the unemployment numbers are very skewed. I know about a dozen tech workers who simply stopped looking for work (and that’s just in a 20 square mile area of the country, so you can extrapolate that out that people I don’t know in the same area, plus hundreds of other areas around the country who probably are in the same situation.)
        Add to that the fact the the unemployment numbers typically only count those who collect unemployment insurance (which runs out after 6 months and needs to be renewed…if you’re eligible for renewal) and then all of the tech workers who are working in non-tech jobs just to pay the bills, and we have a potential for something very close to 8 million.

        Another thing to consider is what is the definition of a “tech” worker? If you write an Excel spreadsheet, then someone could call you a tech worker. If you use the computer to help you find what you need to fix a car, are you a tech worker? (I suspect that the number of expected tech jobs is just as skewed as the number of people unemployed.)

        • 120,000 new computing positions? There seem to be a lot of 4 month assignments out there.

          The 11 million unemployed are workers counted because they haven’t exhausted their unemployment benefits. This is a different number then those that count workers who are no longer participating in the work force but want to. Unemployed workers are counted as such because they haven’t exhausted their unemployment benefits so it’s really a count of those on benefits. The US labor force participation numbers reflect those who have been “disappeared” form the unemployment stats. Participation numbers are the lowest since the 1930s & food stamp usage & disability claims are up sky high. Anyway, add the two sets of numbers together then 8 million unemployed tech workers doesn’t seem so far fetched.

  3. Glen Smith

    A bad plan well executed by a good team has a small chance of succeeding while a great plan with a bad team has no chance of success. The hiring manager is less likely to get grief for a no hire decision as opposed to a bad hire decision. Even if just 1/4 the newly minted tech workers are competent, you only need a very small number of competent and affordable players from the 8M unemployed to fill the positions. The problem is that it may not make sense for a good portion of those unemployed IT guys to take a job at entry level wages, and even when it does, you probably just eliminated a position where one of those newly minted workers could actually learn how to do the job.

    It is harder to get rid of incompetent employees as opposed to not hiring them in the first place. In the few hours you have to make the decision, you are going to have to rely on signals and filters as opposed to whether the actual applicant is competent or not. A major signal is being an employed or freshly minted tech person at the upper end of his/her reference group. This makes for a relatively small supply group that is not going to grow very fast and may be shrinking as you learn most of what you need to know by doing the work so price competition is going to be relatively fierce for this small supply group. What you also need to look at is all the average income of all technically qualified IT workers with their IT income set to 0 if they are not employed in IT (even if they are employed in alternative work).

    By the way, it is ALWAYS an affordability issue. A demander is one who can afford what they want. If you can’t afford what you want, you are not a demander. You CANNOT have a shortage of supply over the long term, demanders either no longer demanders (they may still be wanters) or adjust the expectations accordingly.

    • It is not difficult for Employers of I.T. workers to get rid of the incompetent. Almost all companies have employment contract with employee “AT WILL”. They can let them go whenever and for very little reason.

      • Unca Alby

        Unfortunately, an “AT WILL” contract will only discourage lawsuits, not entirely rid you completely of risks. People can still sue, and you’ll have to pay expensive legal fees to enforce the “no lawsuit” contract.

        Further, said contract is null-and-void if the terminated employee decides to sue for discrimination based on any of an expanding list of protected groups.

  4. Just a broad opinionated statement here, but I think it is comical in this day and age when we little people are fully aware of CEOs raking in massive profits while their companies may or may not be able to afford it, while whining about not being able to get people to work for a pittance. Now, to add some more opinion, I have no problem with a CEO making a bunch of money, it is a big job and deserves a big reward, but there should be logical constraints. And no I am not saying the government needs intervene with salary caps, the government ruins almost everything it touches so needs to stay as far from the business world as possible. I’m just talking about common sense.

    Personally I am in a good spot, I make enough to pay my bills and my position isn’t going anywhere in the near or far future. I learn new things because I want to, but I have no interest in looking for a new gig, where I could easily fill one of those security positions, because why would I leave a full time permanent job with benes, for a part time contract with nothing?

    My final opinionated comment. We are in a catch 22. The ACME Stuff Company is focused on profits and bonuses for the upper muckity mucks. The average IT worker has done the stuff needed to become valuable, college, certifications, turning down dates with Susie to stay home and work on projects for their portfolio, etc in hopes of being paid a decent wage for our skills and dedication to the craft. ACME crunches the numbers and offers X for the Developer job. Hundreds apply for the job but no one is chosen because ACME wants a $100 programmer, but is paying only $10. Eventually they give the $10 job to a $30 programmer and get all pissy when they get a $20 product.

    In closing, I love this industry and I know I will be in it for the next 30 years. I just hope I at least making as much when I retire as I am now.

  5. There have always been companies in the tech industries who were unable to assess a candidate’s skills and hire the person who could grow into the job. They were always looking for a candidate who appeared to have already had an identical job.

    I don’t know if the “skills shortage” excuse will prove to be a long-term stumbling block to filling jobs. I sense that the real cause of the soft job market of the last 5 or so years has been indecision on the part of management. I have spoken to firms at tech fairs who claimed they were hiring, and came away with the impression that they did not have any real need to staff projects and fulfill purchase orders. Rather, they seemed to be trolling for any top talent that they could bring on board with some vague notion that such a resource would be valuable in the future.

    This month my inbox has exploded with solicitations from placement firms, and some of them actually match my skill set. (Whether that means someone actually read my resume, or if it was just random chance, I cannot say.) I hope this means that managements are no longer able to safely sit on the sidelines, and are actually launching projects. I hope this means that people will actually start to land jobs, and these jobs will pay enough that people can afford to go to work.

    Time will tell.

    • Unca Alby

      Be wary if the job solicitation matches your resume too closely. It’s not likely to be “random chance.” Some of these “recruiters” are trolling for talent and just want to add you to their inventory, and there isn’t any real job available.

  6. Outsourced Sam

    The real truth is the top brass want cheap labor no matter the lack of skill. Just ask your beloved DNC ran Senate that wants to bring in 100,000 ‘highly skilled’ H1Bs.

    I’m sure those dont’ come with communication issues. That is only what American workers lack. Pretty amazing how all those barriers should become non-existent when the top brass is getting slave labor and huge bonuses.

  7. Dr. Capelli is right in that the I.T. hiring is too overly selective, however, it is not the company as much as I.T. Department personnel (managers, supervisors, directors) being afraid to hire people who have more current technical skills or “the understanding of the latest technology” and feel threatened. So the I.T. Dept. does not move forward in either people with the latest skills or the systems and technology for those already on board to get relevant skills.
    I believe upper management (CFO, CEO, COO) in non-tech companies are unaware of this bias and allow for the problem to be created.

  8. Female IT Person

    Others were correct in saying management/employers are the reason for the skills gap. They are afraid to hire people who are more educated/qualified than they are and/or they don’t know what skills are actually needed for the positions they have to hire for. There is also a very,very wrong idea that US citizens are not as qualified as H1b’s. The vast majority of these imports are NOT qualified and the vast majority of the offshoring is done to incompetent,lazy, and unintelligent people who must be trained to do the jobs that Americans had. This causes increases costs since companies need to hire more people to make up for this reduction in productivity. Foreign countries know that the more Americans that are not hired, the more they jobs may go over seas or more H1bs. So, they write HR software (since we off-shored the work), bought by US companies, that rejects submissions from Americans – especially women in America. They also “take care of their own” here in the US by rejecting any US candidates they interview – especially women because they know our Congress will allow more of the H1b’s over here if there appears to be a shortage. Over 56% of the women who go into IT here in the US have to leave the profession – guess why?
    The US govt is to blame in allowing H1b’s and outsourcing. However, the Dems are trying to hold down the # of H1bs to 100k while the Republicans want to increase the # of visas to over 165k. And NO ONE is monitoring how many of the visas are actually given out. No one makes sure they leave upon expiration so some of them are here illegally.
    I have business and IT knowledge (BS and MS-MIS from top schools in US and a CPA) that employers say they want and I still struggle to get hired because I am female, over 40, and non-Indian. The IT skills gap would close if the H1b visa and off-shoring crap was stopped. That only hurts this country and the smart companies have realized this. In my opinion, any company that hires h1bs and/or off-shores any jobs is guilty of treason since they are only hurting this country. As Henry Ford said, a country is only as strong as the amount of money invested in it. By moving jobs overseas and hiring foreign people, that corporate money goes to other countries, not the US. That is why these former 3rd world countries have growing economies. In the US, with declining tax revenues, the governments (state, local and federal) must cut services. At the rate we are going now, we will become a 3rd world country – if we are not taken over by another country. All because of corporate greed.
    Like I always say, the best way to invade the US, is to come over here on an h1b visa or walk in this country without any drugs on you and the US companies will welcome you.

  9. I agree that this is the warm up to open the floogates for H1b visas. I live in the UK and its exactly the same here with regards to Indians.

    With the common market and open borders for work throughout Europe you would expect that ever other person you meet at work here in the UK would be from France, German, Spain, Italy etc. But of course you don’t, they are all Indian.

    Its about getting the cheapest people possible.

    There is no problem with that, but try and get a visa to work in India. No way, they don’t allow it. Want to set up a consultancy in India, and staff it with Westerners, no way not allowed. Want import your product into India, good luck with that. The cheap talk about globalisation is just a load of BS. The agenda here is to cut costs and IT is just a cost to most of the numskulls that run large companies in the US and the UK.

  10. Charles Roberson

    I’ve lacked full-time employment for 10 years. I have a Bachelor’s Degree and a Master’s degree in Computer Science. I’ve been told that I am “Over-qualified” numerous times. I applied for a position around 2005 that was identical to one that I had in 1987. They didn’t even interview me. After calling HR, they said that I was “Over-qualified” and they thought I’d leave as soon as the recession turned around which by their assessment would be very soon.

    At a friends request, I applied at a company for a position that required knowledge of “old” languages (Fortran, Cobol, C). Given that I know those languages well, I applied. The HR person contacted me within minutes of my online application. She was pleased and forwarded my resume to the hiring managers. A month passed and I had heard nothing. I contacted my friend and he checked into it. He said I wasn’t interviewed, because I was more qualified than the hiring managers and they didn’t want the competition in this economy. I have been an software developer and systems administrator and manager since the late 1980’s. I have lots of experience, advanced degrees and I’ve taught myself many of the “new” languages (Java, JavaScript,PHP, …) and I am still told that I am “Over-qualified”.

    So, it has been my experience that the “skills gap” is a complete fraud.

  11. Paul Halstead

    Odd that the story primarily discussing tech work shortage has stories down the side of the page about lay-offs.

    I believe the HR screening process is a culprit in this story. If you are above a certain age you don’t “fit the culture” and if you are from the middle East you have a natural talent for technology jobs. The mind-set in larger companies is the biggest impediment to resolving this problem. In our “throw-away” culture, it is a shame we are conditioned to throw people away too.

  12. The problem isn’t a ‘Skills Gap’ or even an affordability gap…the problem is an inherent flaw in the hiring methodology for high tech workers.

    For any position that goes unfilled due to the supposed ‘skills gap’…there are dozens (if not hundreds) of qualified applicants that would have the talent, skills and experience to do the job…If they had only a few weeks of training on the specific technologies required for the position. But H.R. departments aren’t looking for people who *could* do the job…they are looking for people who ALREADY HAVE EXPERIENCE doing the job. Showing similar experience or demonstrating the ability to quickly learn new technologies isn’t enough..if an applicant doesn’t match the keyword list, there is a ‘skills gap’.

    Imagine if we hired housepainters the same way that we hired programmers:
    Seeking housepainter with seven years experience using Sherwin-Williams Renwick-Rose Beige SuperPaint on interior walls of two-story houses. Three years experience with Little Giant M17 Type 1 AltaOne ladders required. Two years required use of Linzer 2″ and 3″ flat utility brushes.

    If you have the seven+ years experience, but it hasn’t all been painting 2-story houses? Skills gap. If you’ve used other colors of paint? Skills gap. Demonstrated safe ladder usage but have not used the M17 Type 1 in particular? Skills gap. Prefer Purdy utility brushes? Skills gap.

    Etc., etc.

  13. What these companies don’t understand is that by hiring outside the U.S. they are setting themselves up for failure. They are letting “educated” non U.S. workers walk off with millions of dollars in trade secrets, software and technologies that could end up in the wrong hands. The U.S. Government will now prosecute and fine anyone right from a CEO down to a shipping person for legal damages and etc. The laws are getting stiffer with higher penalties being assessed. Every year this is becoming more of an issue. Also there is no loyalty or protection to the company. Signing confidentiality agreement does not necessarily protect these companies. This has been proven over and over again.

    I know many people that are fed up with looking for work when the higher someone with an non-U.S. worker over a qualified U.S. worker. Also these companies expect someone to do the work of 5 people for less money, and no health insurance. The cost of living has gone way up in parts of the U.S. and some are barley holding on to the little they do have. These workers are stressed out by the shortage of people. Their departments have been downsized and there workloads are heavier because of it. Some are being passed over for a promotion or job advancement even when they have had continual training updates or certifications to do their jobs. I am an experienced High Tech worker and I get out there every day and look for work. I apply for jobs in and out of my field and some I am way too qualified for. I have lots of experience and a college degree. I have seen it happen that they will take a in-experience for cheaper wages over a qualified candidate.

    Most of the people on welfare or unemployment did not choose to be where they are. They are victims of outsourcing overseas, personal circumstances or becoming an older citizen. It isn’t that they don’t have the education or the experience, so they are not looked at as good job candidates. Recruiters are another problem. I have dealt with some interesting recruiters. I don’t think that these companies have any idea how the job candidates are being treated by the recruiters. Some of them were insulting. Yes the unemployment numbers are skewed and most people I know are giving up. Some have taken early retirement to find something that truly makes them happy.