For the past few years, recruiters and hiring managers across the country have complained of a “tech talent gap” that prevents them from finding the tech pros they need. Major companies have even used this reported drought in tech talent as justification for H-1B visas, outsourcing, and other drastic measures. But does the gap really exist?
Like most things in life, the answer is complicated. A new report from Forrester suggests that such a gap is largely a myth, thanks to an increasing number of workers suited for tech employment (specifically, the research firm suggests that number will grow 3.4 percent a year). That supports the assertions of various experts who think the issue isn’t the availability of talent, but how much companies are willing to pay for it.
“What the tech companies mean is ‘there aren’t enough domestic workers to fill the jobs at the current wage,’” Rutgers University economist Jennifer Hunt told the Boston Globe earlier this year. “They could find more native workers by raising wages, but at some point raising wages becomes unprofitable.”
The rise of remote work may potentially help mitigate some employers’ complaints that talent simply isn’t available to tackle technology projects; certainly there’s an appetite on the part of tech pros for opportunities that allow them to work from home.
But those counterpoints probably won’t halt tech employers’ complaints about a lack of available talent. And to be fair, there are pockets of the industry in which companies are desperate for workers they simply can’t find. Inside those pockets, tech pros’ salaries are astronomical. Just take a look at Google, which paid out millions of dollars to members of its self-driving car team—some of whom took similarly lucrative offers to work for competitors. Then there’s the artificial-intelligence arena, where top experts are reportedly making millions.
In the abstract, skyrocketing salaries are a sign of a talent gap—companies pay more when they can’t find the people they desperately need. Within the broader tech industry, however, salaries have only inched upward a bit over the past year. According to the Dice Salary Survey (PDF), for example, tech salaries in Silicon Valley declined 0.2 percent year-over-year, while falling 1.7 percent in New York and 2.3 percent in Seattle. Nationwide, the average tech salary declined 1.3 percent year-over-year, to $92,081. And that could be a symptom of an industry in relative stasis, “hot” pockets aside.
When many companies complain of a talent shortage, they specifically cite a need for tech pros who specialize in artificial intelligence, machine learning, and other key segments where an ultra-talented team can mean the difference between wild success and crushing failure. Tech giants such as Google are also focused on the long term; when hiring managers at those firms talk about improving America’s educational pipeline to produce more STEM graduates, they have one eye three to five years down the road, when the usual employee churn will create a need for more talent of all types.
But it seems unclear whether such a gap exists for the tech industry as a whole. Some signs certainly suggest there’s talent out there to fit the bulk of companies’ needs, especially as more tech pros make self-directed efforts to boost their tech skills.