Is The Tech Hiring ‘Crisis’ Highly Exaggerated?

The debate about whether the U.S. actually has a shortage of workers trained in science, technology, engineering and math wages on but a new report from the Census Bureau brings up an interesting point: Even those trained in those fields might not end up working in them.

We're Hiring SignOnly 26 percent of STEM graduates end up in a STEM job, the report says. Instead, they work in fields such as non-STEM management, healthcare, law, education, social work, accounting or counseling.

Tech companies have been lobbying hard for the federal government to lift the cap on skilled immigrants allowed into the U.S. under H-1B visas, arguing that they can’t find the talent they need among native-born professionals. However, the Economic Policy Institute took issue with that argument in an April report that found a “sufficient supply” of STEM workers. Half of STEM students, it said, can’t find jobs in the field after graduation. Others find better prospects elsewhere.

In sifting through the numbers, Robert Charette, President of ITABHI Corporation, a business and technology risk management consultancy, concurs in a post at IEEE Spectrum that the STEM “crisis” is a myth.

Meanwhile, the Census Bureau reports:

  • In 2011, the 7.2 million STEM workers made up 6 percent of the U.S. work force, half of them in computer occupations. Engineers and engineering technicians made up another 32 percent, followed by life and physical scientists (12 percent), social scientists (4 percent), and workers employed in mathematical occupations (3 percent).
  • Twelve percent of STEM workers were software developers, the largest occupational group.
  • Students in engineering as well as computers, mathematics and statistics were more likely to work in their field of study. Nearly half of them do.
  • Of STEM workers, 42 percent had a bachelor’s degree, 21 percent had a master’s degree, 1 percent had a professional degree (such as J.D. or M.D.) and 6 percent had a doctorate.
  • About 30 percent of the STEM work force had less than a bachelor’s degree: 10 percent held an associate’s degree, 14 percent had some college education but no degree, 6 percent had a high school diploma and 1 percent had less than a high school diploma
  • The majority of STEM workers without a bachelor’s degree worked in computer occupations or engineering support. The largest occupations for those with some college or an associate’s degree were computer support specialists and engineering technicians.
  • The largest occupation for STEM workers with a bachelor’s degree or a master’s degree was software developer. A small percentage of college graduate STEM workers did not major in science or engineering.
  • A small percentage of college graduate STEM workers did not major in science or engineering.
  • About 20 percent of workers in San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, Calif., are in a STEM occupation, the highest percentage of any metro area. The Washington, D.C., area comes in second with 13 percent of the workforce in STEM fields.
  • The New York City area employs the most overall, nearly a half a million.

David Foote, Co-Founder and CEO of research firm Foote Partners, has long argued that the government’s job classifications fail to fully capture the range of tech occupations. As companies embed people with technology skills across departments and lines of business, their “hybrid” roles may go uncounted in its reports. So it could be that people with STEM education are making good use of that training after all.

25 Responses to “Is The Tech Hiring ‘Crisis’ Highly Exaggerated?”

  1. First let me say that my experience in this area is a little dated. I am a computer engineer with a BSEE circa 1985. I specialized in telecom software which got blown out of the water by the internet in 2002. I was underemployed/unemployed for 3 years off and on until I made up my mind to change fields. I felt I was pretty good at what i did which was software integration. I found that by 2002 a BS was no longer valuable to employers; a masters was required. I think that this was due to H1B’s and immigrants from south asia who had BS degrees from India, but needed to Americanize their credentials so they had to get a masters degree from a US university.

    So, I went back to school and got an MBA in accounting in 2006. Probably the best thing I ever did. I had three job offers to audit technology and ended up with the federal govt. This has been pretty stable except for the past 2 weeks and is the best job I ever had. I am making a little less than I used to but I know where my next paycheck is coming from.

    I have thought about moving over to the IT group at the agency I am at; they make a little more money than I do, but after trying it for 3 months I decided that their job is just not as exciting as mine is. I am staying put for a while. I really like my job, the lack of pressure, and the respect I get.

  2. For some jobs, I can place an add on multiple web sites and get nearly zero natural born citizens to apply. And the few that do often have no experience or have a much higher salary than the person that is on an H1-B or some other visa.

    • Alexa Kindler

      “And the few that do often … have a much higher salary than … [those on] an H1-B or some other visa”.
      Yeah, probably because you are one of those who want a Indian PhD. on a Walmart part-time salary. Besides, how would you know?
      To get people on an H1-B, your company have to sponsor them, so you would get with your sneaky Immigration lawyer and circumvent certain U.S. Dept. of Labor by posting ridiculous requirements, which your sponsoree won’t fulfill anyway, just so that you can scare away native-born as “overqualified” or “obsolete” or “high-maintenance”. I know. I went through the process. Just like you, who now sits as an HR recruiter.
      What we really need is to have those companies recruiting foreigners move out of this country into the places where those recruits live, instead of moving people into the United States. Treat them as foreign companies, so that they don’t have our benefits without fulfilling their duty to our society and our government, versus someone else’s. Or no one at all.

  3. Nightcrawler

    When I was looking for an IT job, I saw plenty of job ads for people with 3-7 years of experience, and zero for graduates with no experience. Even the unpaid “internships” I came across required at least a year of experience, plus a portfolio.

    This is why I never used my Math/CIS degree. There simply were no jobs that I could apply to; entry-level positions are non-existent.

    Notably, the entry-level work is not being done by H1-B’s. It’s being offshored for $5.00/hour or less; the workers doing these jobs never set foot on U.S. soil. Even if the H-1B program were ended tomorrow, there would be zero impact on the number of entry-level jobs.

    With all this in mind, it does not surprise me that only a little over a quarter of STEM grads end up working in STEM. The jobs just aren’t there, and you eventually reach a point where you realize that the chance of finding a job in the field are about the same as you winning the lottery. Then, you have only two choices: go on welfare or do something completely different. I chose the latter.

  4. David Ressler

    The perceived shortage of native STEM workers is fueled by the strong advice of parents, who were forced to abdicate their own well-paying tech jobs at some career point in the face of cheaper foreign labor, in keeping their own kids away from those bad luck technology paths while in school.

    The top 5% of any cultural population in the world rank in the same band, and the top 5% is about what we experience here as foreigners living abroad. Where “hard luck” USA citizens receive benefits that exceed the standards of the higher working class citizen in their home country, it is no wonder why so many of these intelligent people strive to relocate to compete in our healthy market.

    When our government focuses on providing tax incentives to companies for maintaining long term focus on indigenous employees in high-cost R&D and other technical “investment” positions, the situation will reverse itself. Some of our unemployment and social security problems will be erased in the same stroke. And those 5% of our foreign populations will have the opportunity to return home to help solve social problems such as why 1/3 of their own countries’ population don’t have basic amenities such as toilets.

    German immigrants supported for many decades the growth of our country. These have ended. When you look below the covers in Germany (and Switzerland, etc.), industry and government are working closely together to ensure long term planning for a healthy population of indigenous STEM workers.

    This is simply a politically-created problem and 100 solutions are evident in the recent actions of different countries around the world.

  5. Jon Paul Salas

    This article is in contrast to what I have been believing… we lack graduates in STEM or skills so we hire or clamor for more H1-B visas (whatever!). In computer jobs, our companies would love to hire more and more people from India, if I am not mistaken.

  6. A story that is seldom heard, but true.

    Form SUNY College of Nanoscale Science and Engineering.
    Back round: Has faculties to manufacture nano circuits.

    Hired a 51 year old long term unemployed paper mill worker.
    Intense on the job training and certified. Works in an ISO 9001 lab. Done.

  7. Of course it is. It has always been a big lie to lower labor costs. I’ve been in IT technology staffing for twenty years. I’ve worked in the white collar sweatshops at big firms like Microsoft and GE. I’ve worked with executives whose job it is to send 300,000 jobs to India. This countries future is looking more dismal by the day.

    The next time you hear a multinational firm say they can’t find workers- what they are telling you is they can’t find someone that is willing to move to take a 3 month on-site contract position in San Diego with 12 hour days, with no benefits, no job stability, for a $48 an hour pay rate, via an $85 per hour bill rate via RPO, which requires 4-7 years of professional software engineering experience and a masters in computer science. Another wards, someone that is willing to work for free after everyone takes a cut of the engineers pay check, as the bottom line is it costs as much to acquire the paycheck as it is worth.

    The latest statistic is that half of all good paying white collar IT jobs will be off-shored or H1B’d to death by 2016. Consumer spending is 70% of the US Economy. Maybe something to think about before you take the cheap money and buy yourself a $560,000 house again. Another dark, deep recession is on the horizon. It’s a certainty.

  8. The real question is, do we want to make the 1% even richer by giving them unfettered access to indentured servants? Go Slavery! Work 12 hours or it is back on the boat to you go.

    Given the times, it is heartless and sad that our elected leaders, that are supposed to be serving us, are even discussing this. I say recall them all.

  9. Frank Bucalo

    The job requirements have gotten ridiculous with hands knowledge of 5+ technologies, exposure to specific commercial applications, specific business exposure and no flexibility. I am pretty sure that no one satisfies those requirements. Like the government shutdown, this is a manufactured crisis.

    • Nightcrawler

      I ran into this. Here’s a typical “entry-level” position in my local area; I have redacted the name of the company and other identifying information, but otherwise this is pasted word-for-word from my local Craigslist. THIS is “entry-level”? I never bothered applying for jobs like this. I don’t even have half of these qualifications.

      I would also like to point out the “local candidates only” requirement to the “be flexible and willing to just move anywhere” crowd. This requirement, too, is typical of modern job ads. Unless you are applying for a C-level executive position, or for a job that is so esoteric that only you and 12 other people in the entire country are capable of performing it, employers do not want to deal with far-flung applicants.

      ”Are you looking for the chance to prove yourself in the world of front end development? [Redacted], a [redacted] software development and consulting company is looking to hire an entry level user interface (UI) developer.

      We are looking for someone that has experience using modern HTML5 technologies, but looking to break into the work force. An understanding of JavaScript beyond just jQuery is a necessity, and if you understand prototypical inheritance you’re well on your way. A familiarity with at least one JavaScript framework is important, as we will be using a JS MV* framework for development. The ability to visually design — use Photoshop or GIMP – or work with Java is also important. We’re fast paced, and you will be expected to learn quickly, but we also stress our belief in a work / life balance.

      – Expert knowledge of web modern technologies ( HTML5 / CSS3 /Javascript — not just jQuery )
      – Can debug cross browser compatibility issues.
      – Ability to develop high-performance, reusable code for UI components
      – Solid understanding of the full web technology stack (e.g. HTTP, cookies, headers, asset loading / caching)
      – Understanding of CS concepts such as: common data structures and algorithms, profiling/optimization
      – Self-starter, able to meet deadlines and enjoys working in a complex, ever-changing environment
      – Excellent written and verbal communication skills
      – Demonstrate good organizational skills / detail oriented
      – Creative thinking and problem solving

      Familiarity with:
      – Git, SVN, or another version control system
      – JavaScript frameworks : Backbone, Angular, or Ember
      – JavaScript templating : none has preference
      – MVC design pattern
      – Separation of concerns when developing web applications with HTML/CSS/JS

      Bonus for other skills:
      – Web development with Java, particularly Spring MVC
      – Working with an ORM such as Doctrine
      – PhoneGap development

      No travel is required. We are an Equal Opportunity Employer.

      Located in [redacted] offers a casual work environment with an excellent benefits package including medical and dental insurance, group life and long term disability, 401K, paid holidays and vacation, flex time, and much more. . .

      We are an Equal Opportunity Employer.

      Please Note:
      * Absolutely no Third Party candidates or H1Bs can be considered for this position.
      * Local candidates only. No travel expenses or relocation assistance will be provided.
      * Interested applicants should email their resume with applicable education background and salary requirements.

    • I totally agree with you. Some of the requirements I have seen are for products that have been around for less than five years. How in the world would you have 3 or more years of experience, if you did not write it.
      However, the real travesty in this is not only the lack of available jobs, it is the absolute disdain for what we the domestic worker brings to the table, by almost ever sector in our economy. Just because many graduates of a STEM program want a little more than just a job, they want a career. Due to a seemingly endless amount of project based consultant positions, how does one give up the potential of a steady income for a roll of the dice.

  10. Juergen Werner

    That’s a bunch of BS! There are plenty of qualified Americans here in the US to fill these jobs. Those companies are just finding more and more excuses for cheap labor by outsourcing their jobs and so forth. Come on people, don’t be fooled by the greed.

  11. Fred Bosick

    That posting is miserable! You need design, programming, and backend infrastructure, as someone “looking to break into the work force”. I see lots of entry level job postings similar to this.

    • Nightcrawler

      Yeah, I could find and post ads just like that one all day long. I fail to see how that job is “entry-level.” Obviously, the job itself is not; only someone several years of experience will have all of the listed skills. It is only the pay that’s “entry-level.”

      As a side note, I was at one time interested in learning more about web development, but then I discovered that I’d need to be a graphic artist (Photoshop, etc.). I can’t even draw stick figures. So I didn’t bother trying to learn about web coding other than when I needed to know something, such as when I set up my business website. I’m a marketing copywriter, so thankfully I didn’t *need* a bunch of fancy graphics dancing all over my site; the words are what is important.

  12. “Half of STEM students, it said, can’t find jobs in the field after graduation. Others find better prospects elsewhere.”

    Well, that’s because nearly half of the students graduating are not good enough to do the job. They just barely managed to graduate and can’t code fizzbuzz to save their lives. The total productivity decreases when you hire these people.
    50% might sound too much, but in comparison in India, only about 20% of the graduating class are any good. These 20% get jobs and make about $10/hr. The rest are either unemployed or go into other fields.

    • Nightcrawler

      Granted, I wasn’t at the top of my class, but my graduating GPA was 3.1–not awful–and I could have easily passed a Fizz Buzz coding test. Unfortunately, that wasn’t enough. I could not meet all of the requirements of allegedly entry-level jobs like the one I posted above.

  13. Dave Lister

    The tech hiring crisis is complete BS. The big corporations like Microsoft and Qualcomm have manufactured it to bring labor from India that will help keep engineering compensation down among US born workers. There is no shortage. Period.

    However, there will be a shortage in the future, in spite of all the political focus on STEM in US schools. Why? Because people like me won’t recommend tech as a career anymore to our children or others.The politicians and big corporations have been busy creating a self-fulfilling prophesy of a shortage. In some companies it is becoming difficult to find people that were actually born in the US.

    An interesting consequence is that the smartest people I was with at Caltech have left science and technology fields for law and Wall Street, and who can blame them? Grants for scientific research are near to non-existent in many areas, the market is flooded by the children of wealthier foreigners, and compensation falls further behind every day. Meanwhile bankers say that have to enrich themselves at the expense of everyone else or they won’t get the best people (many of whom bested peopled us right into the banking system failure). CEOs are paid far more in absolute terms than they did 25 years ago but deliver less, with interlocking BoDs ensuring that none of the good old boys get left behind.

  14. Seeing Things

    We KNOW that according to IEEE estimates there have been on average 58K STEM jobs created per year between 2000 and 2010. We KNOW that 150K or more H1B visas per year have been granted over that time. We are the ones who VOTE. Call your congressman/congresswoman – in the House the Skills Act – which increases H1B visas to 168K per year – will be voted on. Make sure your congress knows that the numbers are not working for us. Call and email now.

  15. The problem is that inexperienced college graduates do not meet the increasingly detailed laundry-list of requirements for most openings. What we have is shortage of ENTRY LEVEL tech jobs in this country as all of those jobs were outsourced. We cut ourselves off at the knees when we did that as all we accomplished a reverse brain drain for the sake of a tactical cost savings. So we saved a couple of bucks for a couple of years but now we have no pool of entry level positions to draw upon when trying to fill mid-level positions which means when our senior techies retire we’ll be done. Meanwhile the price of labor in India is going up (labor cost inequalities can not endure in a free market or even in a market like this) so we won’t have cost savings anymore either.

    • Nightcrawler

      This is what I’ve been saying all along.

      Picture a Christmas tree farm. It takes several years to grow a Christmas tree. If you do not plant brand-new trees *each year* to replace the crop cut down each year, eventually you will run out of trees.

      Because I could not find an entry-level position, I gave up on the tech industry. Obviously, many others are doing the same, for the same reason. Because no new talent is entering the pipeline, there is no one to replace the old talent as they move on, retire, or die.

  16. I worked in IT for over 20 years at the State of Colorado. I got an entry-level IT position as a COBOL. I agree there are very few entry-level positions open these days. Even at the State of Colorado there is very little flexibility, but at least when I was working there, the employer had to follow the same personnel rules with IT workers as everyone else. Now they have created an “Office of Information Technology” which wants all their IT workers to be “at will” which means they can fire them at any time for no reason.

    I had to retire because I got carpal tunnel in my wrists and was not able to work a full 8 hour day. I had worked my 30 years so I could retire. However, most IT employees no longer have retirement.

    I would like to work part-time, but my skills are old (Crystal Reports, PowerBuilder). If anyone knows how I could get a part-time job in IT let me know.

    I agree that we need to develop our own IT workers. Look at Germany, they do a much better job of developing their own workers than we do. Developing workers is a necessary part of maintaining our economy.

    Any employer hiring H1-B workers should have to pay a percentage (perhaps 20 percent) of that workers salary into a fund which would be used to develop IT workers here. This money should be used to make sure employers are opening entry-level positions for local workers, and should be used to re-train local workers whose skills become obsolete.

    We also have the ADA for disabled workers, but it does not seem like this is being enforced in IT positions.