Does the ‘Tech Talent Gap’ Actually Exist?

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.

25 Responses to “Does the ‘Tech Talent Gap’ Actually Exist?”

  1. Clark Willis

    There is not now, and there never has been a tech talent gap. I know plenty of talented, experienced and educated US citizens who have been replaced by inexperienced unqualified resources who are available. The only reason the H1’s exist here is because they’ll be happy to work for 1/2 the amount, and they will never complain when they are treated like slaves because they fear losing their H1 paperwork and being sent back. The issue isn’t talent gap, it’s purely a pay gap.

    • John Galt

      I would agree. It is just a shell game being played. Take the vid below where businesses are coached on how to game the US gov, waste US citizens time, and get their cheap overseas labor.

      I’ve also noticed that in a growing number of firms (primarily those who outsource) that getting hired is nearly impossible when there is a sufficient number of H1Bs already employed as they, due to the belief system they were programmed under, if you are not one of them you do NOT get hired. The same applies if it is perceived you have more skill. How do I know? I hang in one of those circles so I can study the competition as it were. Discrimination such as that will only increase over time as businesses clamor for cheap and HR looks the other way.

      Having been on many job hunts (bear in mind I’ve got over 15 years experience and have exp in some of the newest tech backed up with industry certs), usually to get interviews quickly one needs to post salary expectation AT or LESS than the prevailing wage of an H1B worker. The poster child jobs that you do see in the industry (almost always filled by foreign labor) of 100k and up, are exactly that – poster child jobs that are intended to obscure what is really going on.

    • Mattingray

      I couldn’t agree more. The government cannot do anything. These companies will continue to do so to their advantage. As an engineer, I always will figure out a way to go around. My solution is to stop working for these commercial companies. I am targeting companies in the defense/government business only. Because they CANNOT hire a H1B, it is a fair game for US citizen with these companies.

    • I can only speak for myself as a professional and entrepreneur, but there is nothing whatsoever deficient about my technological knowledge base, know how, and will to succeed that could be considered a “gap”. This is all a manufactured talking point put forward by progressive communists to displace otherwise highly skilled, deserving United States workers from the workplace, prospective business owners from the business world, and so on. In a word, it is Bravo Sierra that they would even consider there to be a gap.

  2. John Varghese

    An Indian American Perspective

    As an imigrant who went to undergraduate college here, has lived here for the past 30 plus years I am invested in my fellow Americans both native born and immigrant. I live here and share the same pain we all go through in the current job market. I pay the same taxes, mortgages, serve at our church and volunteer at the civil air patrol (Airforce Auxiliary) that provides disaster relief services here.

    I agree the H1B program is flawed and is geared to lowering wages as opposed to filling a shortage of skilled labor in a vast majority of the cases. But there ARE legitimate use cases for importing “highly skilled” labor. How would you discriminate between the two ?

    The current H1B is granted to an employer NOT the employee. This gives them all the power to set wages ,and control supply side of the labor equation. Thus making the argument made here valid.

    Flip that paradigm where the H1 is given to the employee where the employee has the right to work for ANY employer and suddenly you level the playing field. There will no longer be an incentive to import labor unless there is truly a need here. I say let the “fmarket” control supply and demand both for compensation and labor. But government SHOULD make sure that the market is “fair”

    • Agreed! IT professionals are not allowed to participate in the free market. The new law in California where it is illegal for an employer to ask a perspective hire their salary history should be adopted nation wide. And, it doesn’t even make sense to give a person’s visa to their employer! And requiring a potential employee to divulge their salary history as a condition of the employer considering them for the job is criminal in my opinion. Let the free market sort it out, FOR EVERYONE !

    • That’s EASY. Just require that the company to pay DOUBLE the market wages for the individual. If the normal pay is $80K, make the company pay $160K for an H-1B – half of which MUST go to training a replacement.

      The pressure works two ways. Suddenly, there’s no “cheap” H-1B labor. The price is a PREMIUM. Second, there’s funding to train someone to replace the “temporary” worker. I’d add one more element: H-1Bs are good for two years (not three) and may NOT be renewed, nor may an H-1B holder apply for a followup H-1B or citizenship within 3 years of holding an H-1B visa.

      Does that cover all the bases?

      If a company really NEEDS a specific skill they cannot otherwise find, they pay extra for it. The extra money goes to train an AMERICAN who can do the job. The H-1B is GONE in two years – which means you better get cracking on training that replacement. Oh, and you’re going to have a continuity break every two years until you DO train a replacement.

  3. Spot on comments, especially John. The real issue, in my opinion, is that corporations control the government. Until that changes, we’ll have this false narrative of the tech gap while more of our colleagues are forced into self-employment, contract work, and worst-of-all…piece work, i.e. payment per task. . .awarded to the lowest bidder.

  4. Deborah Spohn

    There is no tech gap. I am an unemployed excellent COBOL programmer. I lost my job to H1’s. I can’t even get a callback due to the fact that I am over sixty. They can figure that out from your resume even without your age being on there. Also, they put so many requirements on their descriptions you must be able to do every MF language ever written, be able to work in every type of platform, know CICS inside and out. What no takers, we tried, go hire an H1 because they work cheaper and we don’t have to supply the benefits (in a lot of cases). By the way, just please ASK me you might be surprised what my salary requirement would be. But, they don’t even call.

    • John Varghese

      So Deb:
      I am currently unemployed, and have been for four months. (just got two offers) So based on that expereince here are couple things that may help you that I have tried and given that I just got two offer would say worked.

      1. You. do NOT HAVE TO put in all your experience ..just the the one that is most relevant say over the last 10 years ..max 15. drop everything else
      2. Do NOT put your graduation date from college.
      3. Forget the recruiters and job boards, they are a waste of time.
      4. Target your search and spend your time applying to companies directly (bypass the boards and recruiters)
      5. Network though former colleagues and Linked in.
      6. Pay forward: Get involved with social media that is relevant to your career domain. Offer pro bono advice that you have expertise in . People will see value you bring to the table and could lead to a fantastic opportunities that are not advertised. Case in point (one of the jobs I got was from someone I helped back in 2008. It was over a years worth of pro bono work ) Yes I was unemployed then as well) But this time he contacted me when he learnt that I was unemployed and “created a role” because he valued what I had done for him years ago and there is a “need” for a similar skill. But here is the thing … This job is not advertised anywhere. and the interview was merely a formality.
      7. Invest in learning new skills … My skills are dated as well and I got a rude awakening when one of my well wishers read my resume and told me that my skills were no longer relevant .

      Hope this helps.

  5. So this thread is very one sided so far, so I want to offer the other side from an employers persepctive.

    I currently run a startup. That startup is self funded and works providing consulting and development expertise for cloud and devops. There is a big difference between having the skills, and having the ability to complete work on time, to a given standard and taking responsibility for actions and mistakes that have to be resolved.

    We don’t hire any H1B’s, but we did build an offshore development team that is 40% cheaper than running the same team from the US.

    So the history – did we try to do this from the US first? Absolutely, we wanted to hire and support our local community, but the attitudes of new developers through to older developers that simply wanted to do things therir own way and couldn’t be a part of a team made the process prohibitive. That coupled with the current culture of ‘work has to fit around my personal life’ makes delivering projects on time almost impossible unless there is a personal accountability and maturity that employers are entitled to expect something from their employees.

    What we have found with working with offshore and other employees is that they are more grateful for the opportunity than their US counterparts. I’ve always respected my employer, and they get to dictate how they want my hours to be spent and how they want to utilize the investment by paying me a salary. If they want to put me on something that doesn’t maximize their return – that is their choice. Ultimately the US work force expects too much, and delivers very little when compared to their foreign counterparts.

    And just to set expectations – my teams don’t work any harder or longer hours over seas than my US teams. They estimate their work, and we hold them accountable for whether it gets delivered on time. We don’t push them any harder, we don’t treat them any different – however, because they are more grateful, they innovate and grow their skills quicker than their US counterparts making them more valuable to the next project.

    We have a right to work in this great country, but we don’t have the right to a job that rewards people for sub-par performance.

    Its an individuals responsibility to stay marketable and stay current. COBOL? Really? In 20yrs of Software development I have come across ZERO projects that required those skillsets and I’ve never been unemployed. Is it still in existance – of course, is it still actively used and implemented – no so much, tolerated would be a better way to describe it. With 1m COBOL programmers in the world that are needed to maintain 200Billion lines of code this should tell you something. Many look for niches that allow them to capitalize and be valuable on market trends, however the market trends change and if you don’t move with them then don’t be surprized when jobs are harder to find.

    • Jon, the article was suggesting there really isn’t a tech skills gap except for the 0.1% of AI, ML jobs, so of course the people it will resonate with would create a thread of comments that you find one-sided.

      That being said, I would like to suggest two points you might contemplate regarding your experience about ungrateful US workers vs offshore.

      1) You found it easier to deal with developers who by-and-large come from a culture of submission without challenge. If you want developers to just do what they’re told, to implement a tech spec without questions, pushback etc, you’ve found the right group. If you want creative thinkers, developers who might push back (sometimes for good reasons), you will need to invest in your people management abilities – to be willing to challenge, negotiate, and be a strong leader. I would submit that you lack some of those people management skills that involve conflict resolution or team building and thus found it easier to deal with offshore. 2) I also believe that you found the rates of offshore very attractive along with the lack of regulation concerning hiring offshore team. Hiring US citizens requires red-tape: collecting taxes, paying healthcare, benefits, etc. The cost of doing business in the US far exceed that of simply hiring some offshore team, but it does come with consequence. As soon as your clients figure this out, why will they need your small consultancy, they will just do what you did themselves.

      • First of all some facts. i have ran teams in CA, UK, Ukraine as well as China, India, and the USA. I am 42 yrs old, white, married 2 kids. i count it as a privilege to work in the USA as I migrated here a number of years ago.

        I have worked in every area of large corporates from engineer, to Director of engineering of over 100 staff, through to CEO.

        I’m the one employed. I’m the one that has both US and off shore teams and I’m offering you a very real view of the struggles from both sides. I do have staff that just do what I ask, i also surround myself with people and delegate daily to those that have better and greater skills than I. But don’t think for one minute that the creativity just comes from the USA. That there is the same arrogance and ego centric nonsense that is consistent with why so many can’t find work and you spend sll day bitching about POTUS.

        At the end of the day what I say goes wt work and we move on together successfully because i hire people to scale me and my vision. not to give people a job. This isn’t communism. people work for me because i have the idea or created the market opportunity.

        A team is only as strong as its weakest link, and too often that weakest link has turned out to be someone from the USA with an ego that can’t deal with the fact that the world, technology and expectations have moved on.

        I came from a poor background, couldn’t afford to go to university, but took responsibilty for where I was and the decisions I made rather than spend all day browsing social media looking for a way to bitch about the world and how unfair life is.

        cant afford to live where you are? downsize or move. i did that three times in my life. i didnt ask for handouts. but took it as an opportunity to learn. and for those that are complaining about the salaries, start living within your means. if you are later in life, you should have saved. for those over 50, WTF were you doing with your money when times were good?

        i plan my entire life around the lowest paid job i could ever reasonably get if the SHTF. Why? because i have responsibilities and life owes me nothing. what does that practically mean? it means i have no debt, my house could be paid for on a combined salary of $40k between my wife and I. i didn’t get greedy and try and grow my savings through risky investments or got caught out in a housing bubble and risked the roof over my family’s heads.

        if you dont put provisions aside during the fat years, why should you expect to survive during the thin years.

    • Mattingray

      That is fine if you want to open a center offshore. I don’t have a problem with that. Just don’t bring them into the US. But I disagree of what you said that the US workers expect more. WRONG. Think about it, it is all about relative. US workers will struggle with the salary you want to pay them, while the foreign workers are extremely happy with the same salary, because you just raise their social status to the top (of their country). Of course, if someone wants to pay me double or triple my current salary, I would be extremely grateful. Again, it is all about relative.


      I can’t find a job – and I don’t think my skills are particularly “dated”. I’m comfortable with C, embedded, Linux-Apache-MySQL-Perl and Mason, as well as smatterings of a least a dozen other languages. I have designed robot systems, created courses and taught both vision systems and robotics classes – theory of operation, maintenance, programming. I ran a QA team for the biggest online retail company in the world – a team that had a PERFECT record on 50% manning. I ran a factory – took it to its most profitable level in over a decade while virtually eliminating a festering union-management schism – changing a battleground into a team. I have a work ethic that makes most millennials look like shirkers. My IQ is 140+. I hold degrees in mathematics and law, and have done graduate level work in CoSci and EE. I learn quickly. And just on the off-chance that someone might consider my skills “dated”, I am currently picking up Angular4, Node.js and MongoDB.

      But I am over 60. And I rarely even get a return email, let alone a call.

      I don’t doubt that there are over 100,000 jobs currently being done by H-1Bs in America right this second that I would be willing and able to do immediately and another 100,000 I could do with a month to ramp up – and for the same wages they’re being paid. But I never even get the time of day. One thing is for certain, Jon, You never called me.

      What is there to say about someone who wants to produce goods or services to be SOLD in America, who isn’t willing to INVEST in America – who is willing to import outsourcing and cannibalize the American worker? Let me know, will you, Jon?

  6. Mattingray

    What these companies are saying is … there is a shortage of engineers who are willing to work for “peanuts”. I am an unemployed engineer and I found that there are ton of engineering jobs similar to my skillset and experience out there, and I am willing to take a small pay cut, but their pay is only 1/2 of my previous salary. Pathetic. These companies even draft the job description so specific to make sure that no one will qualify. It is their intention to hire an H1B instead. My previous company even hire a H1B as a new college graduate, what unique skillset that a new college graduate has? Obviously, “peanuts” wage is what they want. So, my only solution is to target companies in the defense/government business only (let’s go to war), because they CANNOT hire an H1B visa workers. I have more contacts and interviews with these companies than ever, and they pay better too. As they said, don’t mess with engineers, they will always figure out a way to go around. I will never want to work for these commercial companies again, I say to them “you can take that job and shove in your ***”

  7. A few things to touch on… Jon, I think you underestimate the US worker and generalize way too much. Yes, a lot of us ask for work-life balance. I don’t want to die at 55 from a stroke. I have consistently worked in a deadline-based field and met or beat my production deadlines. I have, also, telecommuted for 20 years. No office distractions. And, no, I don’t throw in a load of laundry during the workday. I schedule my work time and I sit for the duration of it. It’s the younger workforce that seems to be emphasizing the “work-balance” demand. Not those of us whose kids are raised with 100% of our time ready to focus on our tasks.

    Someone else mentioned cost savings. I recently lost out on a job based in Silicon Valley, despite being told I was their top candidate. I was told I must relocate there, though they wouldn’t give me a truly livable wage for the location, despite my experience. (The main team was located in another state and the team leader said she didn’t mind where I worked. Our interview started with her being surprised that I understood and could deliver every skill set needed, because it was old hat to me.The ability to work from home could have saved this company 30% had they been willing to let me telecommute. But that’s a different story.)

    Which leads me to the last area I just alluded to. It is a matter of being priced out in many positions for those of us nearing 50. I read with interest John’s points above on what to do. I do all of these things (well, 5 of the 6 most important ones IMO) and get called quite frequently for interviews during my job search… good buzzwords for positions I am well-matched for. (I’m going on six months in my search.) I am in a niche position that is now FINALLY needed in many businesses and organizations, despite my being twenty years ahead of the curve. And that’s just it. I bring twenty years of experience to this field. I have trained in updated skills, along with having the core skill set. When it comes down to the end, most of what is happening is I am worth too much. I can hit the ground running in these positions. Little to no training needed. But it’s cheaper to train someone fresh from college…even candidates fresh from grad school. (In my particular field, as much of what the graduates need isn’t expressly taught in this field.) PS—leaving out the grad date doesn’t help when you have twenty years of *relevant* job experience. They know you’re, uh, old.

    The bottom line is $$$…no matter what is being sold as otherwise.

  8. Yes Big Government and Big Corp are incestuous partners in the H1-B visa program. Who do you think introduces such legislation? Our beloved “representatives” at the behest and massive bribery – probably deposited in some obscure off-shore account – from the gigantic corporations whose executives gain immensely from the increase in the “bottom line” and the subsequent gain in their Stock Options.

    So if our so-called “government “representatives wanted to stop this in its tracks they could do so in an instant. They could even threaten to void the corporations charter or void their corporate tax status but then the massive bribes would stop and they might have to live like the rest of us.

  9. John Boss

    I am an experienced IT with more than ten Peoplesoft, SAP, other softwares implementations and HR plus Performance Management, ELearning background. I have recently worked (5 years) in a mixed non profit healthcare IT field abroad and I returned to the US to be with my family. I have more knowledge and more experience than ever and its impossible to have an interview even in the city of Jacksonville where there are so many tech companies. Not even an invitation to interview. After 12 months of inactivity with 2 kids, i just gave up and try to open a restaurant. So pissed…..There is no talent gap…..there is something bad crossing the tech market of the US…

  10. It’s time we upped the stakes. Require companies to pay 2x the base wages for domestic talent for any H-1B hire – half to go to the H-1B hire and half to go to a training program for a US Citizen to be trained to do the job. Add in a 1000X penalty for any H-1B not fully paid, or any skirting of the law – plus an end to all H-1B hires for the company for a period of 10 years.

    So, if the prevailing wage for a developer is $60K, the company must pay $120K – with half going to train a replacement. If they cheat on the payments in either place, the penalty is $60 MILLION per job… and no H-1Bs for a decade.

    Let’s find out how badly the companies really “need” H-1Bs. (My bet is that within a year, 98% of the H-1Bs will be GONE.)

  11. John Varghese

    I am going to bring in three perspectives which I can talk to on a first person basis.

    1. I am in Indian immigrant which means I lived there until 18 and so I understand Indian culture and mindset intimately
    2. I am a US citizen and I have lived here for 35+ years. Not just live here but actively involved with “my american” community. This means I understand american culture just as intimately. I live in the northeast so “my american” means people from white, hispanic, black, Chinese, Indian, Korean, & European ethnic backgrounds.
    3. I am an IT leader who has :
    a. Managed US teams while while living in the US
    b. Managed offshore teams while living in the US
    c. Managed Indian teams while living in India.

    First I hear the “entrepreneur’s perspective that the “corporation” s/he runs MUST deliver “value” to its stakeholders otherwise there is no reason for its existence. Mind you I said stakeholders as opposed to shareholders. So that means …Customers first , shareholders and employees second (there is no third) . I am being deliberate in my choice of words. You cannot serve your customers without the other two; both of which are EQUALLY important. You cannot deliver value to your shareholders or customers without employees who have a stake in YOUR success . This implies you as the entrepreneur have to be “invested” in both employee and shareholder success.

    So the question becomes ..Which “employee population” do you think is vested in the success of an “American Enterprise” ? The one that lives here in America or the one that lives half a globe away ?

    Second. There is “cultural component” to building tech systems. If the final product is designed to be consumed by americans I submit that at least all the design, planning and testing must be done by americans. This is not a question of who is “smarter” or “cheaper” . Others simply do not have the cultural context. You cannot make up “american experience” unless you are soaked in it day in day out. You think I am in “left field” ? I will bet you dollars to doughnuts the people here will come up with “more relevant” use cases, test cases , failure scenarios for products that are going to be deployed HERE than someone who is NOT living here.

    Third. You do not really save that much in the long run. From personal experience I can tell you that yes it is 40 % cheaper but how many times do you have to have the offshore team re-do work because of loss in “translation”. I would say you save about 10 % all said and done on an average. Is it worth it ? well depends on what your margin is I guess.

    Fourth. I belive in a free market …as long as it is within our borders. Every country protects its turf. and its our governments job to do it. Trust me, India has a high tariff for importing goods that compete with local products. Try getting a work visa in India for a US citizen. Not easy, I would say next to impossible. Our church tried to get some for US teachers teaching “English” to rural communities in India for free. It did not happen . Why ? They were competing for jobs of Indian English teachers. Worldwide free market is a myth.

    Fifth. You think there is shortage of IT “talent” in the US ? Here is a News Flash !!!! It worse in India. Just that it is NOT “visible to the US” . Indian outsourcing firms all have high turnover rates in India. because of the demand. The same companies do not face that problem here because of the way H1B visa are setup.

    This is a bit dated but it will make the point.

    I ran a service delivery organization in India from 2006 – 2009. The services were delivered to other Indian companies operating in India..not for the US. I could not find “qualified” candidates and I was paying above market rates. Why ? Because qualified folks wanted to work for “Brand Name Multi National companies” meaning … IBM, HP, Oracle, Google etc. So I went recruiting to the “Engineering Colleges” there. Candidates from tier one colleges would not give me a second look (they already had a jobs from said companies by the third year. All they had to do was just “graduate” . So I went to tier two & three colleges. Sorry to day they could not answer fundamental CS 200 or 300 level coursework questions. So I was willing to “invest” in training these college graduates on my dime in hope that they would be ready in six to eight months. Well they left after a year to work for Multi National Companies I could not even hold training re-embursement over their head to make them stay. MNCs gladly gave them sign-on bonuses with which they paid for training reimbursement. So I did the next best thing … set up a training shop …but I digress… The point is if you are not a known brand chances are you are getting the bottom of the pile of candidates.