Join 3,432 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


A tide of STEM
May 9, 2013 3:03 PM   Subscribe

Big tech is saying we need to issue more temporary visas so high-skill STEM workers can enter the US, because there's a shortage of Americans who can do the work. But according to this essay in the Columbia Journalism Review, there might be plenty of US citizens available, in fact maybe even a glut, and immigration reform proposals might just be a way to keep STEM labor costs down for corporations and universities.

Me, I'm not in STEM, and I'm hoping mefites in tech and academia can bring some real-world experience to bear on this. (Personally, I think the country needs more liberal arts education in college and should bring civics and history back to high school so we can educate kids to be citizens rather than employees, but that's for another day.)
posted by tommyD (134 comments total) 37 users marked this as a favorite

 
I've been saying this for years. Not that anyone cares.
posted by tommasz at 3:09 PM on May 9, 2013 [14 favorites]


I thought this was common knowledge?
posted by Avenger at 3:09 PM on May 9, 2013 [6 favorites]


Citizens instead of employees? What are you, some kind of Communist?
posted by Michael Roberts at 3:13 PM on May 9, 2013 [12 favorites]


This is not my area of expertise and I haven't read the article but from personal experience, my husband works on a start-up and he always has a hard time finding qualified people for entry-level software developer jobs. He's happy to train if he can find someone who is smart, has a BA or BS in computer science, ideally has work experience but he's flexible on that, and he can't find people. His company is trying to get a visa for a guy actually. I don't know what the disconnect is about but he cannot expand his company without additional labor and he can't find American workers for the job.
posted by kat518 at 3:15 PM on May 9, 2013


I've been surprised how hard it's been to hire engineers for my workplace, domestic or foreign.
posted by garlic at 3:17 PM on May 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


When ever I hear someone say something similar to "there are not enough workers qualified to do X," I always add "willing to work for the salary we want to pay them" to the end of it. Pay people more and I'm sure you won't have problems finding qualified employees.
posted by Arbac at 3:17 PM on May 9, 2013 [69 favorites]


At the same time, why should there be infinitely high trade barriers for labour? I like high wages as much as the next working stiff, but making them higher isn't guaranteed to make everything better. And why should US companies be prohibited from hiring employees from wherever they want? Many countries produce extremely competent people in STEM fields. Why wouldn't you want US companies to hire those people?

Having done interviewing I wouldn't hire 90% of US computer science graduates who currently have a job, so maybe the issue is just that employers are too picky. But again, I'm pretty sure that's their prerogative.
posted by GuyZero at 3:18 PM on May 9, 2013 [2 favorites]


I forgot to mention that I'm paid crazy well, near 200k in Chicago, and I think you'd have a hard time finding a developer position that paid significantly better. This may not be every situation, but it is mine.
posted by garlic at 3:18 PM on May 9, 2013


my husband works on a start-up and he always has a hard time finding qualified people for entry-level software developer jobs

Entry-level software development is something that can probably be taught on the job, if the employer was willing to do it. You could probably get a decent college grad (in any field) with a respectable GPA and teach them entry-level anything to an acceptable degree within a few months.

Maybe companies should develop employees rather than demanding them fully-formed out of the box?
posted by Avenger at 3:22 PM on May 9, 2013 [44 favorites]


kat518: "This is not my area of expertise and I haven't read the article but from personal experience, my husband works on a start-up and he always has a hard time finding qualified people for entry-level software developer jobs."

Last year I moved from Kansas to Oregon for a job, and the quantity of LinkedIn connections requests / recruiter mail I've recieved has dramatically increased. I posit that bay area employers, especially startups, are extremely myopic.
posted by pwnguin at 3:23 PM on May 9, 2013 [5 favorites]


I posit that bay area employers, especially startups, are extremely myopic.

That must explain why they all keep falling into buckets full of a billion one-dollar bills.
posted by GuyZero at 3:24 PM on May 9, 2013 [5 favorites]


Just because we have a glut of STEM graduates doesn't mean that they're good graduates. High grades, etc, are not an indicator of a good candidate for hiring.

I work for a large software company, we're growing like crazy and are free to hire as many qualified candidates at any level that we can find. We just can't find qualified candidates.

Entry-level software development is something that can probably be taught on the job, if the employer was willing to do it. You could probably get a decent college grad (in any field) with a respectable GPA and teach them entry-level anything to an acceptable degree within a few months.

I very much wish this was true, but when college graduates can't even do what their degree certifies them for, there's no way you're going to hire the candidate and provide a year of remedial software education.

This applies to both domestic and foreign candidates. Smart people are hard to find.
posted by jpeacock at 3:27 PM on May 9, 2013 [11 favorites]


If your job adverts don't include a salary, can not-enough-salary be the reason for lack of applicants for the job you're trying to fill?
posted by Mike1024 at 3:27 PM on May 9, 2013 [2 favorites]


In reference to my anecdote above, it's a start-up so they don't have a lot of money to pay people. And we're not in the Bay Area. I'd be a happy camper if my husband and everyone was making bank but then the company would simply run out of cash and then everyone would be out of a job. If someone with a bachelor's in basket weaving sent in a resume and a cover letter expressing an interest in the gig, they'd get a shot. That's not happening.

STEM degrees include quantum physics, social psychology, evolutionary biology, archaeology, etc. It's not just people doing computer science. So I wonder if the STEM graduates that we supposedly have a glut of are in the right fields.
posted by kat518 at 3:27 PM on May 9, 2013 [3 favorites]


Maybe companies should develop employees rather than demanding them fully-formed out of the box?

Nah. Demanding fully-formed employees is to the employer's advantage whether they're domestic or foreign. The domestic ones have burdensome student debt, which makes them desperate to keep their job. The foreign ones need to be employed to stay in the country, to the same effect.

By contrast, training employees costs money upfront and gives employees the skills needed to find a better job elsewhere as soon as they are trained. Where's the upside from the employer's point of view?
posted by jedicus at 3:28 PM on May 9, 2013 [9 favorites]


jedicus: "By contrast, training employees costs money upfront and gives employees the skills needed to find a better job elsewhere as soon as they are trained. Where's the upside from the employer's point of view?"

So make a large chunk of the 'pay' during training be equity options that don't vest until the employee has been on staff for long enough to break even on the training time.

Also, once they're trained, pay them a competitive salary so they don't feel the need to go looking for a better deal.
posted by mullingitover at 3:30 PM on May 9, 2013 [8 favorites]


gives employees the skills needed to find a better job elsewhere as soon as they are trained.

The only organizations I'm aware of that still do extensive on-the-job training are ones where the work is so specialized that there's literally nowhere for people to learn these skills and conversely there's not many places to take those skills either.

You may get trained to be one of four people to use a multi-million-dollar CNC welding rig, but chances are that there are not a lot of jobs to transfer those skills to.
posted by GuyZero at 3:31 PM on May 9, 2013


jpeacock: " High grades, etc, are not an indicator of a good candidate for hiring.
"

Indeed. Look at a plurality of the current crop of MBAs, for instance.
posted by boo_radley at 3:32 PM on May 9, 2013 [6 favorites]


he always has a hard time finding qualified people for entry-level software developer jobs. He's happy to train if he can find someone who is smart, has a BA or BS in computer science...

This is the kind of strange barrier to entry that I'm seeing in STEM jobs. Why does an entry-level software developer need a BS in computer science? In my field, why do we expect entry-level engineers to have detailed, professional knowledge of drafting when that's not actually what they went to school for?

I've been surprised how hard it's been to hire engineers for my workplace, domestic or foreign.

We are in a pretty undesirable area of the country and I work in a field that isn't very sexy, and we haven't had a problem getting applications and filling positions.

In reference to my anecdote above, it's a start-up so they don't have a lot of money to pay people...If someone with a bachelor's in basket weaving

This is very illustrative of the problem. If companies don't have money to pay employees, why are they looking for employees who just spent four years or more racking up debt?
posted by muddgirl at 3:34 PM on May 9, 2013 [14 favorites]


MBAs get a lot of ridicule in general, but do you have any reason to believe that there isn;'t a normal distribution of grades for MBA students like there is for every other subject?
posted by GuyZero at 3:34 PM on May 9, 2013 [3 favorites]


It's odd; we've had an entry-level (serious entry level - low to mid VB proficiency and a little SQL) position open for a while in Jacksonville, and figured 20-30 an hour was reasonable - we've gotten very few bites, and the ones we've been getting have been from people who are confused about the difference between VBA and VB. The sad thing is a couple of the applicants with VBA/VB confusion are graduates (with computer science degrees) of the for-profit Universities hereabouts.
posted by Mooski at 3:38 PM on May 9, 2013


That's a fantastic question, GuyZero, and I'd like to take the opportunity to thank you, Guy, for asking the tough ones.

I kid. Of course I do, but it's just my own experience.
posted by boo_radley at 3:38 PM on May 9, 2013 [2 favorites]


I have a feeling this STEM shortage is a complete myth. I have a biomedical engineering degree with a year and a half internship experience and having a very difficult time getting a job. Recruiters treat you like shit, and the jobs they offer usually pay shit and sometimes don't even require a college degree. Companies want you to have 2+ years of experience doing the exact job. Which I could pick up very quickly with some minimal training. They don't teach you specific skills in school, rather they teach you how to learn and problem solve. Companies are supposed to teach you the specifics, but they aren't. Cheapskates.

I have to network like crazy, to even get my resume reviewed since applying online is a complete black hole.

A lot of this boils down to pay fair and competitive wages, and invest in some training as mentioned above. Expecting someone to have been doing the exact same job is nuts.
posted by Mr. Papagiorgio at 3:38 PM on May 9, 2013 [24 favorites]


Has anyone considered that the average hiring manager is incapable of training a Golden Retriever to fetch, much less train a new employee?
posted by GuyZero at 3:40 PM on May 9, 2013 [17 favorites]


Apologies, because I didn't read the article yet. But I suspect part of the misunderstanding here has to do with what skills PhD-level researchers are trained in in an academic lab vs. the skills and training needed in most of the types of research positions available in the biotech/pharma industr(ies).

So yes, there are a number of Life Science PhD's languishing in academic postdocs (and getting paid piddling for the privilege of it, and confused as heck as to why everyone said there was a shortage but they can't get an academic or industry position). AND there are a number of biotech/pharma companies looking for scientists in positions they can't fill. And there are a host of reasons as to why the gap between those two communities still remain.

But I'm pretty clear about the fact that one of those reasons is because the skills they need to be competitive in industry are not ones they are taught in during their PhD in academe.
posted by anitanita at 3:43 PM on May 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


Being ocassionally on the hiring side for software engineers, there are plenty (and in my particular section of the industry we must hire US citizens). There aren't a lot of people willing to work long hours for low wages - which is what every company wants. Why else do you think you hear about the ridiculous coddling found at some companies? Those benefits are there to keep the workers at their job longer - extracting as much labor as possible from each employee. The alleged shortages are just a manifestation of the same desire - as many man-hours of labor as cheaply as possible. Hurray capitalism?
posted by combinatorial explosion at 3:46 PM on May 9, 2013 [8 favorites]


Many countries produce extremely competent people in STEM fields. Why wouldn't you want US companies to hire those people?

Because the visa system totally gets gamed in favor of outsourcers. They only make the most perfunctory gestures toward hiring domestically, such as putting absolutely impossible requirements in the job listing (e.g. must have 12 years of experience in technologies that have only existed for 5, be willing to work for $15K a year, etc.). And then when (surprise!) they don't get responses, they bring in visa workers. They bring dudes in for a couple years (or whatever their visa states) and pay them well below market rates. When their visa expires, they go back home and continue to work for the outsourcers, only this time for a far reduced wage (whatever market rate is in India or China or Argentina or whatever).

Having done interviewing I wouldn't hire 90% of US computer science graduates who currently have a job, so maybe the issue is just that employers are too picky.

I think they are being too picky. The problem in almost every industry now is that nobody wants to hire entry-level people. Everybody wants someone with "5 years of experience in X" (the magical 10,000 hours that Gladwell talks about in Outliers). And surprise, those people already have jobs! And then they go complaining, "oh woe is me, can't find any qualified applicants!"

What companies should do is hire people fresh out of college, and then maybe not expect them to be experts right off the bat. Hire them fresh and throw grunt work at them. In time, they become experts. Sure, some will skip out after a year or two, but if you treat them right, some will hang around and make your company strong. That's how you grow a workforce. Instead, companies want to hire experts to do the real work (they have no choice, you need some people who know what they're doing) and then they try to dump the grunt work on outsourcers or contractors or whatever is cheapest.

Also, we need to make immigration easier. My personal opinion? Outsourcing and visas == bad. Immigration == good. Immigration is how we get new Americans. Lots of really really smart people could become Americans, make our tech industry strong, and get paid market rate. That would be good for the country, good for workers, and good for the industry. But employers don't give a crap about that. They want cheap labor, and that's exactly what the visa system delivers.
posted by Afroblanco at 3:48 PM on May 9, 2013 [46 favorites]


So make a large chunk of the 'pay' during training be equity options that don't vest until the employee has been on staff for long enough to break even on the training time.

Also, once they're trained, pay them a competitive salary so they don't feel the need to go looking for a better deal.


But why would they do that, when they already have applicants and employees over a barrel in an employers' market?
posted by jedicus at 3:48 PM on May 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


I'm iffy about this. On the one hand, there is no argument that the entire purpose of the H1B visa program is so that we don't have to pay software developers the same as we pay doctors and lawyers and accountants. On the other hand, there are really excellent developers in China and India who work for half as much, and without the H1B program I think large software companies would move even more development over there.
posted by miyabo at 3:50 PM on May 9, 2013 [2 favorites]


I very much wish this was true, but when college graduates can't even do what their degree certifies them for, there's no way you're going to hire the candidate and provide a year of remedial software education.

So you want somebody with several years of highly technical and very expensive training for an "entry level" position? I'd argue that if you need to spend almost a half-decade doing daily intensive training for a job maybe "entry-level" is the wrong word to describe it.
posted by Avenger at 3:52 PM on May 9, 2013 [16 favorites]


My brother works for a us company that outsourced its work to the uk rather than pay higher wages in the us - he does some tech algorithm money crunching stuff.
posted by sgt.serenity at 3:52 PM on May 9, 2013


Because the visa system totally gets gamed in favor of outsourcers.

This is true of only a tiny number of IT outsourcing firms. It has nothing to do with graduates in biotechnology, architecture (which has a terrible unemployment rate) or virtually any STEM field other than IT.

without the H1B program I think large software companies would move even more development over there

There is already a huge, huge amount of software work permanently in China and India. Having said that, they now have the same problems we do - there are lots of candidates and many of them graduate from school unqualified to do a job in their field. The seeming endless supply of Indian and Chinese software developers is far from a panacea.
posted by GuyZero at 3:53 PM on May 9, 2013 [2 favorites]


To write an article on this subject and if ore the changing reality of higher education in the US is, we'll, shoddy journalism. Yes there may be X number of STEM grads a year, but how many come from for-profit online diploma mills? The story leads off with an anecdote about an MiT PhD, but the STEM numbers are terribly inflated by Kaplan, Corinthian colleges, and other scammers who take in student loans and print out meaningless degrees. And beyond that, how many are from bottom tier undefined schools taught exclusively by overburdened adjuncts with insufficient resources?
posted by allen.spaulding at 3:54 PM on May 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


The historical record shows that countries with liberal immigration policies tend to do well, and those with restrictive ones stagnate. I suspect it has something to do with labor mobility and something to do with migrants being self-selected for resourcefulness and flexibility. In any event, I think it would be in the USA's interest to have a vastly more liberal immigration policy and to cut the number of working visas way, way down.
posted by Joe in Australia at 3:55 PM on May 9, 2013 [7 favorites]


FWIW, here's the list of H1-B visa requests for 2012 by job title. For those who don't want to click on the link, the top 10 are programmer/analyst, software engineer, computer programmer, systems analyst, computer systems analyst, programmer analyst (how that is different from the first item I could not tell you), business analyst, software developer, physical therapist, and senior consultant.
posted by kat518 at 3:56 PM on May 9, 2013 [3 favorites]


Has anyone considered that the average hiring manager is incapable of training a Golden Retriever to fetch, much less train a new employee?

If a STEM company has uninformed managers making the hiring decisions, that could be one reason why they're having a hard time finding qualified employees. It's not like we can't spot an idiot when we see one.
posted by muddgirl at 3:58 PM on May 9, 2013 [5 favorites]


I've met a fair number of hiring managers who couldn't find their own ass with both hands and a flashlight.
posted by double block and bleed at 4:03 PM on May 9, 2013 [5 favorites]


We are talking about the hiring manager as in, the person in the chain of command who identifies a personnel need, initiates the request, and will be more-or-less the ultimate employee supervisor, right? Not, like, an HR manager, who shouldn't be responsible for hiring decisions at all?

Gosh, I can't understand why qualified talent wouldn't want to work for someone who couldn't find their own ass with both hands and a flashlight. If a company has a systematic Dilbert problem, bringing in workers from overseas isn't something we should encourage.
posted by muddgirl at 4:07 PM on May 9, 2013 [2 favorites]


While true, a less snarky version of my comment is actually that training is hard and requires skills and time that many companies lack.
posted by GuyZero at 4:09 PM on May 9, 2013 [3 favorites]


Very glad to see this come up and especially interested in those with experience in the STEM job market. Both school districts I cover have jumped on the STEM bandwagon this year, starting in elementary and middle school, and the interest is flying high. And a job roundup I write each week could be filled with just medical/lab/engineering/IT jobs. The largest employer in the area is the large health system that owns two dozen hospitals, labs, etc., and has probably 100 openings each week (not all STEM-type jobs.) But I also hear from people who write in to complain that they've been looking for IT or lab jobs for three or four months and can't get hired. So I don't know what to think, other than that their training or skills aren't as good as they should be?
posted by etaoin at 4:16 PM on May 9, 2013


we've gotten very few bites, and the ones we've been getting have been from people who are confused about the difference between VBA and VB. The sad thing is a couple of the applicants with VBA/VB confusion are graduates (with computer science degrees) of the for-profit Universities hereabouts.

A computer science program isn't going to teach a thing about VB.

Three of the things I've learned working in IT are that interviewing is hard, everyone is horrible at it (managers, engineers, HR people, everyone, myself included), and the processes around it tend to actively hurt outcomes. Assessing a skill in others is a skill in itself that has the assessed skill as a prerequisite. Unfortunately, the people who's job it is to assess skill (HR) lack the perquisites and the people who have the prerequisites aren't given the opportunity to learn how to assess people in their field well (because it's a cost that can be cut). The end result is interviews filled with empty small talk, trivia questions, unfair half-remembered questions from old interviews, and gut feelings. It's basically speed dating.
posted by cosmic.osmo at 4:27 PM on May 9, 2013 [15 favorites]


Let me propose a new law here: Anyone who complains to the media about how hard their company is struggling to fill positions will also be required to disclose how many resumes they've discarded without being read by a human being.

They won't have to give exact numbers. Rounding to the nearest thousand should be fine.
posted by aw_yiss at 4:32 PM on May 9, 2013 [16 favorites]


I wrote a 4 page article about this over ten years ago. Nothing has changed for the better. Some high points and data sets from my article:

*In fiscal year 2001, the IT work force in the United States shrank by 528,000 positions, according to a recent survey by the Information Technology Association of America. At the same time, the INS approved 163,200 H-1B visa applications, and approved 28,000 more employer requests for H-1B workers in the last three months of 2001, bringing the total number of H-1Bs in the US to 710,000.

*A report by Department of Labor Inspector General (IG) revealed that the system is often abused by unscrupulous employers, and does nothing to protect United States workers.

*In a test of the LCA procedures, the president of a professional association was able to receive approval to bring in 20 software programmers at a wage of $5.00/hr –substantially less than U.S. workers would make.

*“But...” I can hear you saying, “It’s illegal to replace American workers with H-1B workers, isn’t it?” Well, not according to the Department of Labor, who states, “Except in certain very specific conditions, outlined in the American Competitiveness and Workforce Improvement Act of 1998, it's perfectly legal to replace US workers with H-1Bs.”

A review of documents at the DOL reveals that the politicians who wrote the most current H-1B visa laws inserted enormous loopholes which provide companies with the legal protection they need to fire “expensive” Americans and replace them with less expensive labor.

(Cites, and whatnot available should anyone care about 10 year old data.)

It is important to note that the companies who are pushing the hardest to expand the HB1 again, are the very same companies that have laid off tens of thousands of American workers, and replaced them with foreign workers, while spending millions of dollars to lobby Congress to keep the taps of low paid workers for high tech jobs flowing as fast as possible.
posted by dejah420 at 4:35 PM on May 9, 2013 [20 favorites]


It's easy to get a job in tech making lot of money even if you are an idiot. The only requirement is that you already have a job in tech making lot of money.
posted by zeikka at 4:52 PM on May 9, 2013 [10 favorites]


Is anyone following the immigration bill closely enough to understand this?

A New York Times story about tech companies lobbying on immigration included this disturbing paragraph for which I could find no further information:
The industry also hopes to get more from the deal by working to remove some regulatory restrictions in the proposal, including on hiring foreign workers and firing Americans.
http://www.nytimes.com/2013/05/05/us/politics/tech-firms-take-lead-in-lobbying-on-immigration.html?pagewanted=all
posted by etaoin at 4:53 PM on May 9, 2013


I am a PhD physicist working in industry, and have both applied for jobs and sat on hiring committees.

It is true that there is a shortage of jobs for PhDs and that there is a shortage of PhDs for jobs in industry. Most PhDs would prefer to work in academia. A large fraction of graduate students in my field (atomic and optical physics) are foreign, and a large fraction of industry jobs are military/industrial, citizens only. (H1B visas don't help with this, though.) Graduates have spouses who are also looking for work, or don't want to move across the country. PhDs have very narrow fields of deep expertise, and PhD level positions require very narrow fields of deep expertise, and it's hard to find a perfect match, from either side. Science is typically funded by 2-5 year contacts, and as in any contract work, this leads to staffing complications where the companies would prefer to hire on a temporary basis, but workers want permanent jobs. (H1B visas might help with that.)

I don't know that my experience supports either narrative -- "we need more STEM graduates!" or "we need more STEM jobs!" I think we need ways of funding science that are more consistent year to year, and then a lot of these problems would solve themselves.
posted by OnceUponATime at 5:00 PM on May 9, 2013 [7 favorites]


I don't care if there is a shortage or not. I just think it's wrong to allow employers to bring in workers from anywhere under a system that easily allows paying less than or treating worse than they'd have to a native worker. The fact that people on special skills visas (like H-1B) can't easily move jobs when being mistreated ("asked" to work long hours, realize they're being paid less, routinely given the crap/medial tasks, etc.) means that no matter where the the truth lies on the "shortage", we're already possibly mistreating hundreds of thousands of people. The answer isn't to protect American workers by limiting immigrants; it's to protect all workers to the same degree.

On preview, improving how staff funding works in some STEM fields (well all the sciences) is a great idea that I hope happens someday. I don't see how a scientist can meaningfully work on "big" and long-term problems while chasing renewal of funding every couple years (or sooner).
posted by R343L at 5:04 PM on May 9, 2013 [6 favorites]


etaoin: "Is anyone following the immigration bill closely enough to understand this? The industry also hopes to get more from the deal by working to remove some regulatory restrictions in the proposal, including on hiring foreign workers and firing Americans."

This is something that the Technet consortium that I linked above has been working for since they were founded in 1997. It has long been the focus of significant lobbying efforts. In 2001, when I wrote that article, there were a few limited restrictions on firing Americans to hire cheap Hb1 visa holders. (See: American Competitiveness and Workforce Improvement Act of 1998) Currently, there are less restrictions. Some corporations would very much like it if there were NO restrictions to firing American workers in order to bring in a cheaper Hb1 replacement.
posted by dejah420 at 5:10 PM on May 9, 2013


It's corporate propaganda. The media and corporations want you to think there is a STEM shortage, but looking at the actual numbers, and talking with recent graduates and entry level workers shows that it's just not really true.

Most companies are sitting on mounds of cash, which they could use to pay good wages and decent training. A lot of entry level managers and fortune 500 corporate environments are exactly like Dilbert. Yuck! Recruiters and hiring managers don't treat job seekers like human beings, rather sucking them for everything they can get away with. And if you don't like it, they will find someone more desperate. Obviously the above is not universal, but seems like the general trend.

Tech companies just want cheap labor at government and taxpayers expense.

As an unemployed 26 year old engineer, it will be interesting how I can live a happy and financially secure life. Especially as the job market becomes more globalized, as corporations continue to influence politics, as union and collective barging diminish, as social welfare erodes, as access to drinking water and affordable energy diminishes, as technology continues to automates jobs, as degree inflation occurs where the need for a masters degree is needed for employment, etc.
posted by Mr. Papagiorgio at 5:10 PM on May 9, 2013 [14 favorites]


immigration reform proposals might just be a way to keep STEM labor costs down for corporations and universities. Yep.

People educated in STEM fields, especially computing, are a critical resource. The shortage should be considered a major concern, and the government should do what it did after Sputnik - launch a major initiative to fund educations in needed fields.
posted by theora55 at 5:14 PM on May 9, 2013


Everybody knows that the H1B visa is the only way to get a US green card without either marrying an American or having a family member already in the US sponsor you? Well, sure, there's the lottery, but it doesn't apply to a number of countries and it's a lottery.

I know lots of H1B holders. They're not abused, they are paid market wages and are pursuing the only means available to get a US green card. Also, they pay taxes while not being eligible for many social security programs. The notion that this program is nothing but abuse is false. Yes, a small number of IT firms have abused the program. But there are a lot of people doing exactly what you expect. These are the rules the government has laid out, I'm not sure why it's so bad that people are following them.

Also, as for people saying that wages should rise? This article from the WSJ shows starting salaries for the best-paying college majors:

Petroleum Engineering: $93,500
Computer Engineering: $71,700
Chemical Engineering: $67,600
Computer Science: $64,800
Aerospace/Aeronautical/Astronautical Engineering: $64,400
Mechanical Engineering: $64,000
Electrical/Electronics and Communications Engineering: $63,400
Management Information Systems/Business: $63,100
Engineering Technology: $62,200
Finance: $57,400

Also, "The average starting salary for a member of the class of 2013 is $44,928, up 5.3% from the previous year, driven by big gains in fields such as health sciences and business."

So the assertion that wages in STEM fields are flat just isn't right. That computer engineering starting salary is a full 100% more than what I made when I entered the field 20 years ago.
posted by GuyZero at 5:15 PM on May 9, 2013 [5 favorites]


There is a similar controversy in Australia at the moment, with our equivalent of H1B visas, the 457.

At the start of this year the company I did development work for outsourced all of their development work to a "local" company staffed entirely by 457 visa holders. This company has apparently been completely unable top hire even a single local developer. Now that's a tight job market (cough). Of course the actual situation is that the guy who owns the company also owns a company in India and another in the US and he rotates his Indian staff into Australia, then the US, then back to India. Works them long hours and pays well below market rates. But of course if they complain they lose their visa.

That said, the new company I work for also uses 457's. However they are bringing in skilled developers on the same pay and conditions as local developers, and they hire heavily locally. Using the system in the manor it is intended.
posted by markr at 5:16 PM on May 9, 2013


Terry Colon's very well-drawn diagram of the US immigration system shows how the H1-B fits in to getting a green card. As I said, it's the only way to immigrate to the US without having a family member already in the country or marrying an American.
posted by GuyZero at 5:21 PM on May 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


Rotating door H1Bs are clearly an exploitation of the system designed to keep labor costs low. Invariably it seems that someone can look at an org chart and see a senior developer making X and think hrmm if I get rid of him I can replace him with 2-3 H1Bs that are willing to work long hours for the same costs that 1 employee worked for.

Basically the idea is that throwing more manhours at a project can get it done faster. Of course the reality is often that a senior developer can do the work of those 2-3 poorly paid recent grads but very few managers seem to be willing or able to do analysis that confirms that.

Throw in the associated costs with onboarding an international employee and I'm not sure it's worth the effort in many cases unless you can really get a major boost in productivity.

Having dealt with the situation of wanting to get rid of deadwood that have increasingly outdated skill sets (common in the public sector, much less common in the private sector) I can understand the desire to replace people with a bigger pool of labor but more crappier labor that requires more manager support and supervision is rarely something I see as a net benefit for most organizations.

Of course I'm not running a coding sweatshop.
posted by vuron at 5:23 PM on May 9, 2013


Recently, I advertised for an entry level (GS 5) technician position and I received a huge number of applicants. Applicants with PhDs and Masters degrees. Applicants with 20 years of experience. Ex-college professors. Applicants at a govt. GS 14 level. The experience of interviewing these dedicated, smart, hard-working people nearly broke my heart. I don't know how on earth I can participate in any more high school STEM activities because I can't pretend this is a good field for anyone if people as excellent as my candidates are reduced to applying for my lousy job.

And I wasn't able to hire any of them, because our congress is disfunctional.
posted by acrasis at 5:26 PM on May 9, 2013 [18 favorites]


Considering that a dollar 20 years ago buys $1.62 today and there are some wage pressures on tech positions an increase in starting salary of 100% in 20 years really isn't that much of a shocker GuyZero.

It's just that just about everyone else saw their wages basically stagnate during that time period so Tech workers seem like they are getting a good deal.
posted by vuron at 5:29 PM on May 9, 2013 [5 favorites]


GuyZero: " This article from the WSJ shows starting salaries for the best-paying college majors:
...
Mechanical Engineering: $64,000
"

I've got a BS in ME, fifteen years experience in everything from air tools to plumbing, planes, trains, and car washes. I have a Professional Engineer license, which, if I don't get a job when it comes up for renewal, I'm gonna let expire for all the good it does me.

I've been out of work eight months. Every job listing I see has requirements for that only the person who left the position can fulfill. Very few "entry level". Lots that REQUIRE five years on this or that CAD program (even for the few entry level). Some that want five years' experience on software that's only been out for two.

Very few actually list what they pay. Those that do start at 50k, which in theory for a fresh-outta-school BSME is the bottom 10th percentile. I actually had a phone interview for a job that wanted ten years experience and was going to pay less, in constant dollars, than I made right after graduating. And another interview, after a battery of sub-interviews with different groups, the VP asks me, "Why haven't you stayed in one field?" Huh, maybe because I've been low man on the totem pole and haven't had that fucking luxury?

Four in-person interviews and two phone interviews in eight months.
posted by notsnot at 5:29 PM on May 9, 2013 [8 favorites]


My department employs about 20 student employees in programming and UNIX administration. As a result, I know the demographics of students and keep an ear out for recruiters for my students. Been listening for a year now, and when they complain how they can't recruit or retain talent, and it falls into three categories:

1. A cash starved startup that can't balance the books paying market rates.
2. Well established firms in the Midwest / South who find themselves paying the Red State recruiting tax.
3. Large companies with a dysfunctional or downright evil corporate culture.

H1-Bs would relieve some of their ills, for better or worse.
posted by pwnguin at 5:32 PM on May 9, 2013 [2 favorites]


What happened to the old strategy of offer people equity options and elaborate perks that were basically designed to get people to work more as a method of attracting talent to work for less than market rates a cash strapped start-ups. I thought that was a standard recruiting tactic or has the relative failure rate of start-ups encourage more employees to seek the money upfront?

In many ways H1B end up being that same sort of deferred compensation, basically the international employee is making a bet that they'll get a greencard or marry an American prior to their H1B expiring.
posted by vuron at 5:38 PM on May 9, 2013


Joe in Australia: In any event, I think it would be in the USA's interest to have a vastly more liberal immigration policy and to cut the number of working visas way, way down.

GuyZero
: I know lots of H1B holders. They're not abused, they are paid market wages and are pursuing the only means available to get a US green card

These. I think the only way to fix this part of the immigration system fairly is to turn the H1-B into a proper immigrant visa that is in no way tied to continued employment at a particular company (though still requiring an employer sponsorship to get one). If there really is a shortage of STEM graduates, then employers should be glad to hire immigrants without the H1-B leash. In the mean time, companies do use the H1-B immigration process to take advantage of honest immigrants, maybe not to the level of outright abuse, but certainly as way to control and disempower them. As a citizen/green card holder, what's your biggest bargaining chip with your employer? The ability to leave and work somewhere else. H1-Bs don't have that.*

* at least not to nearly the same level
posted by cosmic.osmo at 5:40 PM on May 9, 2013 [2 favorites]


According to the American Math Society, the unemployment rate for new Ph.D.s in math has been bouncing back and forth between 5 and 10% for the last few years. It's a bad job market compared to the one I graduated into, but I wouldn't say there are no jobs for math Ph.D.'s.
posted by escabeche at 5:43 PM on May 9, 2013


vuron: "What happened to the old strategy of offer people equity options and elaborate perks that were basically designed to get people to work more as a method of attracting talent to work for less than market rates a cash strapped start-ups. I thought that was a standard recruiting tactic or has the relative failure rate of start-ups encourage more employees to seek the money upfront?"

2000 killed it, FASB built the coffin, and Zynga made sure the nails were in tight.
posted by pwnguin at 5:44 PM on May 9, 2013 [3 favorites]


I think skilled people ought to be able to go anywhere they can find work. If I can hire Einstein for my physics lab over some anonymous American PhD why shouldn't I be able to. Even of Einstein is willing to work for less money because he is fleeing Nazis. Skilled workers are not interchangeable cogs. They all have strengths and different talent levels. I want the most talented and skilled people I can get. We can't compete by limiting our talent draft to just Anericans. We need to figure out how to bring the most talented and creative people here.

If I can't bring them here. I'm not going to just say well give me the b squad. In going to open an office in Dubai or Vancouver and bring them there.
posted by humanfont at 5:45 PM on May 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


Zynga has hardly stopped people from working for equity instead of cash. The Instagrams and Palantirs of the world more than offset the Zyngas.
posted by GuyZero at 5:46 PM on May 9, 2013


One of the biggest issues here is that it's all true. There is not a single technology industry, it's an vastly segmented and mutually misunderstood all around. There are shortages of very high end software positions that can't be filled and two floors down Tata is helping another department save costs outsourcing jobs that were 'trained' by short term H1B workers taking their training back to a sweatshop in Chennai. This was a topic on the radio (Talk of the Nation?) and all the 'experts' seemed to be missing each others point. It's a big market, and it's 'adjusting', it'll be painful for a lot of folks.
posted by sammyo at 5:49 PM on May 9, 2013 [2 favorites]


But humanfront are a country's immigration policies designed to help the individual business owner who wants that top flight talent but isn't willing or able to pay for it based upon domestic talent pool or should immigration policies be designed to avoid the labor pool being a race to the bottom as employers try to bring in workers for less and less because that's the new going rate?

I think the challenge of the H1B program is how do you create a program that allows the importation of the best and brightest without undermining the domestic labor market?
posted by vuron at 5:51 PM on May 9, 2013


> the unemployment rate for new Ph.D.s in math has been bouncing back and forth between 5 and 10% for the last few years.

And if I might be brutally frank, a lot of those are people who "simply don't fit into the workforce" - have no idea how to cooperate with other people at all.

If you're at all cooperative and personable and have a PhD in math, you are hirable almost anywhere. If you can do computers even a little bit on top of that, you're very much in demand.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 5:53 PM on May 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


The unemployment rate for Math PhDs is between 5 and 10%? Huh.
posted by GuyZero at 5:55 PM on May 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


HELP WANTED

Dynamic, growing company seeks new team-member for incredible opportunity!

Minimum Requirements

The ideal candidate will possess a terminal degree in both Mechanical and Chemical Engineering, with a minimum of 10 years of increasingly responsible management experience in both fields. The candidate will also possess a Juris Doctor degree from an ABA accredited law school with a minimum of 8 years experience in the field of patent law.

Strong background in accounting/double-entry bookkeeping (MACY w/ certification preferred)

Candidate must also be a Cisco Certified Architect with a minimum of 6 years experience in enterprise deployments/very large organizational information infrastructure projects.

OPTIONAL REQUIREMENTS

Bilingual+
Willing to relocate to our Alaska Site

SALARY

$60,000-$70,000
posted by Avenger at 5:56 PM on May 9, 2013 [30 favorites]


If you're at all cooperative and personable and have a PhD in math, you are hirable almost anywhere.

Excluding fake PhD's from for-profit "universities" - many of them targeting veterans and designed to abuse federal government hiring systems. I'd bet good money that 5% of the recently minted PhD's have what are essentially fraudulent degrees.
posted by allen.spaulding at 5:57 PM on May 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


And it's totally understandable (in some circumstances) that companies game the immigration system with regard to American workers. I don't know specifics exactly (I think it's part of the H1-B to green card process), but there's a point were employers have to interview American candidates for a job that an immigrant already has (the theory is that the immigration process shouldn't proceed of there are qualified Americans available). So they have an immigrant employee that they known for years and like, who they have to try to replace with an American. Of course they're going to do bunch of BS to make it look like Americans aren't qualified. Would you want to kick a coworker you like onto the street? So you get programmer positions advertised in newspaper classifieds with ridiculous requirements, and everyone wastes their time.

Meanwhile, the company's lobbyists and execs are probably using those same fake positions to make it seem like there's a shortage in order to hire more employees that are easier to control because of their H1-Bs.

/rant
posted by cosmic.osmo at 5:57 PM on May 9, 2013 [2 favorites]


Do the diploma mills actually have PhD programs in Math? Business sure but Math? I can't imagine that being a particularly lucrative area to develop course content at most for profit universities.
posted by vuron at 5:59 PM on May 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


There are some interesting structural problems here that are analogous to the legal field. My business has been trying to hire lawyers to fill a couple of spots for a long time, and we just aren't getting great resumes. There are tons of folks graduating from law school and tons of senior associates looking to leave big firms for an in-house gig, but few subject matter experts. We have gotten to the point where we are going to have to hire some sharp folks that can learn the law they will need to know on the job. That's fine by me, but it can be difficult to explain to the business leaders that their new expert in $legal_subject won't really be an expert until approximately 6 to 9 months from hire.
posted by monju_bosatsu at 6:01 PM on May 9, 2013


While I admit that as an H1B holder I lack some flexibility compared to a US citizen or resident alien, it also cost my company somewhere in the neighbourhood of $50,000 to hire me in terms or relocation costs and legal fees. I like to tell myself it's because I'm actually a qualified candidate and not just a pushover. Maybe my employer is irrational.

Of course they're going to do bunch of BS to make it look like Americans aren't qualified.

I had to write one of those job descriptions for my labour certification. Sorry everyone. It was totally bullshit although there is at least one person who matches it.
posted by GuyZero at 6:02 PM on May 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


Do the diploma mills actually have PhD programs in Math?

Yup. As someone who used to do a lot of hiring for a federal agency there's an entire pipeline to take veterans and give them paper credentials for a fee. And this is just part of the mosaic of private for-profit universities. And ignoring them in any discussion about college graduates is an appalling oversight. They represent a large and growing segment of graduates, just not one that most journalists ever engage with or acknowledge.
posted by allen.spaulding at 6:10 PM on May 9, 2013 [3 favorites]


but few subject matter experts. We have gotten to the point where we are going to have to hire some sharp folks that can learn the law they will need to know on the job. That's fine by me, but it can be difficult to explain to the business leaders that their new expert in $legal_subject won't really be an expert until approximately 6 to 9 months from hire.

This is one major issue. Subject matter experts aren't created in school, they're created at companies like yours. It seems like you understand that, but most people don't.
posted by JauntyFedora at 6:10 PM on May 9, 2013 [4 favorites]


Avenger: "Entry-level software development is something that can probably be taught on the job, if the employer was willing to do it."

No. Good software developers require at least a couple of years of experience hacking on their own, free time, or a couple of years of college to learn basic concepts. "Software development", even entry-level, is surprisingly complex, and there's a huge gulf between someone who can technically maybe do the job and someone who has even potential to get good at it.
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 6:13 PM on May 9, 2013 [6 favorites]


Everybody knows that the H1B visa is the only way to get a US green card without either marrying an American or having a family member already in the US sponsor you?

You are presenting us with a false dichotomy. The answer is to provide better paths to citizenship, not continue on with a broken system.

The big tech giants see that politicians are finally willing to consider immigration reform, and are trying to take advantage of the moment by tacking on their own agenda which (surprise!) involves expanding a visa program that benefits themselves to the detriment of American workers.
posted by Afroblanco at 6:16 PM on May 9, 2013 [4 favorites]


that benefits themselves to the detriment of American workers.

The natural fluctuations of the economy on a monthly basis are more than the number of H1 visas granted annually.

Wikipedia sez that in 2011, 106,445 new H1B visas were granted. This past April the economy added 165,000 jobs.

I concede it has a big impact on STEM and IT in specific, but it's a drop in the bucket in the overall US labour market.
posted by GuyZero at 6:20 PM on May 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


I think employers are being too picky and don't value building engineering staff anymore.

People coming over on H1B visas are very much "owned" by their employers, also. Don't/won't/can't work out? Too bad, you have to find another job within ten days or leave the country.

My hiring criteria is "Do you show an innate curiosity to figure it out, and determination to stick with the problem even when you feel like a total idiot for not getting it?" If that basic question is answered "yes", then I can help you become a decent network engineer in 6 months, and a pretty dang good one in 2 years. Unfortunately my higher ups don't see it that way, so we turn down skilled people and instead go to Tata Consultants and Insight and bring on another contractor for 4 months.

It's maddening, really.
posted by Annika Cicada at 6:24 PM on May 9, 2013 [9 favorites]


Where is this magical fairyland where being smart, curious and determined is enough to land you a decent job?
posted by Balonious Assault at 6:49 PM on May 9, 2013 [18 favorites]


Exactly, Balonius, I'm trying over here. Network Engineering is not all that "hard", there's no real "school" for it and it's mostly on-the-job training.

Yeah, there's certs and vocational schools, but to me that doesn't mean you will succeed in the field.
posted by Annika Cicada at 6:52 PM on May 9, 2013


GuyZero: That computer engineering starting salary is a full 100% more than what I made when I entered the field 20 years ago.

While the the Consumer Price Index is up only 61% from 1993, a 100% increase over 20 years is only 3.5% compounded per year over that time. So better than inflation (2.4% on average), but not that exceptional either. (Petroleum engineers can write their own ticket it seems, though).

My own experience as an engineering educator is that there is not a shortage of STEM graduates at the bachelor's level. Students often struggle to find jobs for after graduation. Likewise in the life sciences, where I spent some time on a sabbatical leave, at the doctoral level, many PhD graduates work as post-docs for years.

There may be distortions of the labor market in other areas of science or engineering that lead to shortages of which I am not aware.
posted by haiku warrior at 6:57 PM on May 9, 2013


Pay people more and I'm sure you won't have problems finding qualified employees.

The only article I've ever read that didn't make the author look stupid was someone proposing that the H1B market for programmers be looked at as two separate groups of people, a group of outsourcing type folk being paid low wages and a group of actually skilled engineers bouncing around between google/facebook/etc for more money than the average household will ever make. Anyone who believes the entire problem is 'companies hiring h1b workers on wages americans wouldn't take' is clearly not the kind of quality thinker that would be competing with the second group.
posted by jacalata at 7:13 PM on May 9, 2013 [5 favorites]


My company is having a hard time finding qualified software engineers both in Silicon Valley and in Pittsburgh; we can't even seem to get resumes. And even when we do find people, we keep getting caught in bidding wars with other companies over the candidates. It's not the pay, they pay us well, it's just that there seem to be more jobs than candidates.
posted by octothorpe at 7:41 PM on May 9, 2013 [2 favorites]


During the go-go nineties I knew dozens of English and humanities majors from ivy league schools who were snapped up by various startups and computery-financy places and, within three months, went from knowing almost nothing about computers to being very competent practitioners in their fields, and many of them are now senior experts. It was totally unfair that merely by merit of their ivy league degree they were being hired by these firms, but that idiotic policy illustrates a much more important point: there are hundreds of thousands of students graduating from all kinds of schools with all kinds of degrees who can learn to do this stuff in just a few months with on-the-job training. The fact that even in the nineties these rich startups were largely only willing to provide that training to pedigreed elites shows how hard it for companies to realize this simple fact: people are a lot smarter than you think, and can learn hard stuff if you just give them time to do so. Being unwilling to provide this investment is the obverse of the unwillingness to pay decent wages. It's the dominant American ethos: do it as cheaply as possible to make the owners as rich as possible, or don't do it all. The main benefit of opening up STEM immigration might be to dilute this toxic ideology with people who actually believe in long-term investment.
posted by chortly at 7:45 PM on May 9, 2013 [11 favorites]


If they actually paid researchers at universities what they were worth, we wouldn't be doing science on the current budgets.

The big tech companies have no excuse, the universities (some of them) can at least pull out the 'funding sucks' card.
posted by Slackermagee at 7:52 PM on May 9, 2013


All this "labor shortage" stuff is bullshit code for "we think we're paying too much for labor so make it easy to hire immigrants at a fraction of the cost, and then send them home before they get too cozy". At this point in time, tech companies above a certain size are eager to move jobs to India, where four or five devs can be hired for every one dev in the US. At one company local to me, the quality of work accordingly suffers to the extent that life is more stressful for that one dev who manages to keep her US job and has to coordinate projects with the India devs.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 7:55 PM on May 9, 2013 [6 favorites]


How come no one here has cited the cutting edge research by Nobel Prize winning economists on this very topic?

See here for a link to a free download.
posted by leopard at 8:00 PM on May 9, 2013


How come no one here has cited the cutting edge research by Nobel Prize winning economists on this very topic?

Because it's from 19 fucking 58?
posted by Pope Guilty at 8:01 PM on May 9, 2013 [2 favorites]


I have a STEM phd and have lots of friends with various visa statuses. My partner is non-american and has been navigating the US visa process recently.

My general sense is that very rarely is it the case that companies strategically prefer an H1B employee. My friends on F1s who are entering the workforce feel like they're operating at a severe disadvantage relative to US citizens. Especially for small companies, the cost of prosecuting an H1B is significant and complex enough that it's an added headache. At larger companies like Google and Facebook, the calculus is different, but largely visa-status-agnostic. They want the most talented people, and they know that a lot of talented people don't necessarily have green cards or citizenship. The interview process is run to select for whatever their weird criteria happen to be, and if they happen to need an H1B, they have very efficient machinery to get H1Bs for people.

My view on this is biased based on my position and I don't know the actual numbers, but my sense it that most of the people getting H1B jobs here in the US are finishing degrees here in the US already, not getting cycled in from out of the country. I doubt even top Indian students would have the cultural and social expertise to survive the weird screening that happens at these companies. Not to say they're not well prepared, just that presenting as someone who would "fit in" is important to the company, and doing that cross-culturally is pretty hard. Plus there's a lot of referral that goes on (companies frequently pay $10k-$20k for a referral that leads to a hire), and people who have a professional network in the US already will have a big leg up in that regard.

So I don't think this is a cynical ploy at all. The big companies footing the bill on these policies genuinely feel a shortage of engineers and compete intensely with other companies to attract them and keep them and getting them visas is part of that deal. But I don't think they're pushing out Americans in all but the most extreme situations.

That said, I think the rhetoric around STEM is misleading because the field isn't monolithic at all. There's a tremendous amount of desire for more software people, but I don't think the other parts of the acronym are nearly as well-employed or competitive.
posted by heresiarch at 8:11 PM on May 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


Pope Guilty, really, I didn't notice that. Man I feel so stupid now.

Let me restate, the complaint that there is a shortage of STEM workers is at least 55 years old,this may be a clue about how seriously we should be taking it.
posted by leopard at 8:13 PM on May 9, 2013


I don't think salaries in software are particularly high. My friends who are smart and talented and in different fields make about the same. Myself and my friend who's a nurse, my friend who's a non-lawyer working in legal stuff, my friend who didn't finish college and works as a sysadmin, my friend who's a mid-level manager at a giant corporation, etc. are all making 80-100k. Basically that's the going rate for a 30-ish person who is moderately talented and has some knowledge of an in-demand field. There's certainly a huge amount of demand for software people -- I get recruiting emails all the time -- but that doesn't push salaries all that high.

(Or it is possible that I am completely clueless. I am completely clueless about many things.)
posted by miyabo at 8:23 PM on May 9, 2013


And if I might be brutally frank, a lot of those [math grads] are people who "simply don't fit into the workforce" - have no idea how to cooperate with other people at all.

And by cooperate, we mean deliver actionable data models to Wall Street trading houses, with sufficient microsecond timing to leverage into profitable advantage.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 8:46 PM on May 9, 2013 [3 favorites]


Let me restate, the complaint that there is a shortage of STEM workers is at least 55 years old,this may be a clue about how seriously we should be taking it.

The complaint is, but seeing as there's not really any evidence of an actual shortage in 2013, and that the situation seems to be that there's a shortage of STEM workers who are willing to work for minimum wage, I think we should be solving the workers' problems, not those of whiny-ass business-owner parasites.
posted by Pope Guilty at 8:47 PM on May 9, 2013 [2 favorites]


Basically the idea is that throwing more manhours at a project can get it done faster. Of course the reality is often that a senior developer can do the work of those 2-3 poorly paid recent grads but very few managers seem to be willing or able to do analysis that confirms that.

Funny that this has been known for almost 40 years but some managers still think otherwise.
posted by zsazsa at 8:48 PM on May 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


Sorry, I'm just being really unclear -- when people complain that kids today are too narcissistic and self-centered, and then you find evidence that people have thought exactly the same thing since the beginning of time -- well, my reaction is to roll my eyes, and not be really concerned about today's young people. Similarly, if people have been bitching about how there isn't enough engineering talent for decades, well it probably isn't a real problem.

I mean, markets aren't perfectly efficient, but if markets haven't solved this relatively simple problem in over 50 years, while human beings travel to the moon and invent the internet and design driverless cars... maybe it's not really a problem.
posted by leopard at 8:56 PM on May 9, 2013


Basically the idea is that throwing more manhours at a project can get it done faster. Of course the reality is often that a senior developer can do the work of those 2-3 poorly paid recent grads but very few managers seem to be willing or able to do analysis that confirms that.

It's the difference between 'solve the company's problem' and 'cover your ass'.
posted by hexatron at 8:57 PM on May 9, 2013


Actually a lot of the issues raised in this thread were addressed (to varying degrees of completeness) over a hundred years ago. Taylor showed the world that it was better for management to take responsibility for creating suitable workers rather than searching forever for the magical, unicorn-like worker who will do everything for free.

I had assumed his work was mandatory reading in B-school, but .... eh.
posted by Avenger at 8:58 PM on May 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


My husband is a tech writer who is currently working on a long-term contract, and I occasionally surf Indeed or whatever to sift through the listings for FTE positions. I've been seeing the same job advertised for the past 18 months, with increasingly hysterical language about how desperate they are to fill this job.

Requirements include:

* 10+ years technical writing experience
* 10+ years C++ software development experience
* 8+ years Sharepoint development and administration experience
* 5+ years graphic design experience (print and web)
* 3+ years video scripting and production experience
* Masters degree or higher preferred
* Japanese or Chinese fluency strongly preferred
* Salary: $58,000

I think I know why they can't fill this job.
posted by KathrynT at 9:02 PM on May 9, 2013 [23 favorites]


Well, this thread has been thoroughly depressing.

I think that STEM is an artificial category that's overly broad and also fraught with regional (and perhaps seasonal) variations. Also; "STEM" BSc, Msc, or PhD makes a huge difference. Also; I'm rather skeptical of the methodology used to determine employment rates and starting salaries for various majors/fields-of-study.

Don't have a horse in the H1B visa program as I have no intention of returning to the USA to live/work but I feel that the desire to hire people with educations outside of the country (?) may have something to do with the rampant grade inflation at US post-secondary institutions. Sure, diploma mills are a problem, but grade inflation at accredited and otherwise "respectable" institutions is certainly creating a demographic that think that they are qualified but employers find that they are not.

From my post-grad academic experience, "grades don't matter." Especially undergrad grades. I was accepted into my MSc program (way past the application deadline) and PhD program because the PI (principle investigator/professor) wanted me in their labs (I had great grades, but grades don't matter).

leopard - it isn't that "kids nowadays are X, Y, Z."

It's that there are more kids (absolute number and percentage) that are more useless than advertised (grades, distinctions, honours, whatever).
posted by porpoise at 9:03 PM on May 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


* 10+ years technical writing experience
* 10+ years C++ software development experience
* 8+ years Sharepoint development and administration experience
* 5+ years graphic design experience (print and web)
* 3+ years video scripting and production experience
* Masters degree or higher preferred
* Japanese or Chinese fluency strongly preferred
* Salary: $58,000

I think I know why they can't fill this job.


They need to lower the salary a bit. Chinese-fluent Technical writers/video production masters are gonna see those three zeros and get intimidated.
posted by Avenger at 9:07 PM on May 9, 2013 [2 favorites]


Entry-level software development is something that can probably be taught on the job, if the employer was willing to do it. You could probably get a decent college grad (in any field) with a respectable GPA and teach them entry-level anything to an acceptable degree within a few months.

Maybe companies should develop employees rather than demanding them fully-formed out of the box?


I remember back in the 80s when a Northrop executive told me they were no longer hiring computer science graduates, they were considered too narrowly focused and unable to collaborate successfully with a broader workforce. They developed their own programmers, hired from within the company, with their own training program. They thought it was better to bring talent from different departments into IT, then train them, and use them to take IT goals back into their old departments. Sounds right to me.

But hey, no shit sherlock, everyone wants immigrant H1-B visa slave workers, who will take half the pay of an American worker. Oh how many times have I seen the scam. You can't hire an H1-B unless you are unable to find a qualified worker in the US. So they make ridiculous job requirements customized to a single applicant they already want to hire. Then he's the only person who fits their requirements. I've applied for these types of jobs and the HR people just flat out told me don't bother to apply because they were going to reject me even if I was more qualified than the H1-B they already had picked out.

The whole H1-B visa program was originally intended to be specific to "highly skilled specialists," and the requirement for skills that were not available in the US was for a reason: the visas were intended to bring foreign language instructors to US schools. There are not enough Americans who are native speakers of foreign languages to supply all the language education positions in the US.

But now the whole program has been abused so corporations can hire cheap labor. And some of my friends who actually worked as language instructors had extreme difficulty getting hired by universities because their visas were always bogged down by the glut of IT visa processing.
posted by charlie don't surf at 9:42 PM on May 9, 2013 [6 favorites]


pwnguin: "My department employs about 20 student employees in programming and UNIX administration. As a result, I know the demographics of students and keep an ear out for recruiters for my students. Been listening for a year now, and when they complain how they can't recruit or retain talent, and it falls into three categories:

1. A cash starved startup that can't balance the books paying market rates.
2. Well established firms in the Midwest / South who find themselves paying the Red State recruiting tax.
3. Large companies with a dysfunctional or downright evil corporate culture.

H1-Bs would relieve some of their ills, for better or worse.
"

Potentially uninformed question: What is the "Red State recruiting tax?" At the risk of perpetuating a stereotype, isn't the cost of living usually lower in "red states?"
posted by fireoyster at 11:23 PM on May 9, 2013


Potentially uninformed question: What is the "Red State recruiting tax?" At the risk of perpetuating a stereotype, isn't the cost of living usually lower in "red states?"

Highly-educated people generally don't want to live in the sticks or in really conservative places, so if your business is in such a place, prepare to pay a premium for such things because the supply is lower than it would be in, say, California or the PNW.
posted by Pope Guilty at 12:17 AM on May 10, 2013 [3 favorites]


I don't really get the confusion. This isn't about hiring new employees you can't find in the good old USA - it is about being able to move people companies ALREADY employee in other countries to work in the United States. You can't give Mercedes Benz tax breaks to locate production in Alabama and then tell them can't bring over experienced engineers to run it because there aren't enough visas, or that they first have to go through some pro forma recruiting process to find a red-blooded American with the equivalent specific knowledge of an engineer who has worked 20 years in Stuttgart.
posted by three blind mice at 1:06 AM on May 10, 2013


Just because we have a glut of STEM graduates doesn't mean that they're good graduates. High grades, etc, are not an indicator of a good candidate for hiring.

I work for a large software company, we're growing like crazy and are free to hire as many qualified candidates at any level that we can find. We just can't find qualified candidates.


Then you either don't offer enough, or are looking for the perfect candidate for the role, rather than somebody you can train up. Which, as somebody who makes his living doing contract work, is something I see a lot of. There's no patience to get the almost perfect candidate and no money to get the perfect one.
posted by MartinWisse at 2:52 AM on May 10, 2013 [3 favorites]


I've been on both sides of the table. As a tech worker, I started working at Big Company in the late '80s. I was self-taught and didn't have a degree. Up until 3 years ago I didn't have a problem getting a job. I've always made a point of keeping up with the latest in-demand languages, and had developed a reputation for quickly grasping the business. Now I'm in a soul-sucking job that I'm trying to escape, but coming up with no offers. I suspect the big difference is that I'm in my mid-50s. When I manage to get past the pre-screening and hook a live interview, I catch a vibe that says "this dude is too old" - usually delivered with "we don't think you're a good fit for the position" or more transparently, "we're a young company."

About 8 years ago I was a tech manager who had one position to fill at a small company. The company owners were convinced that they could hire somebody straight out of college or offshore the job. They expected to find somebody who could jump in, learn the business and be productive immediately for a $30k salary. They didn't believe me when I made the case that experience mattered. They got what they paid for, turning the position over four times so far.

That anecdata aside, it might the market for tech jobs if there was certification for different skill levels. Something similar to PMP on the project management side. Back in the day, an MCSE seemed to carry some weight, but I think it's too specific to Microsoft products.
posted by Sir Cholmondeley at 3:24 AM on May 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


confused as heck as to why everyone said there was a shortage but they can't get an academic or industry position

Years (and years) ago, someone clued me into an interesting fact about these announcements: they're almost never called "shortages" but are referred to as "shortfalls" or "drops". That is, they're not saying there isn't enough STEM workers but that the number is less than there was. It's a shifty bit of wording.
posted by outlier at 3:42 AM on May 10, 2013


The people who get it right are those who recognize that it is a bimodal hiring market.

A small number of employers, call it the Google/hedge fund nexus, only can use people in the top 1% or 2% of IQs who are sufficiently social to function well in institutions and have a great work ethic. There aren't enough of those people born in the US for the demand, and no amount of on the job training or high salary offers will cure this, and most people with STEM degrees aren't in this club. Hence the need to import, and the fact that those who are imported are anything but exploited or underpaid. Congress stopping this is foolish, and impoverishes native born Americans in so doing (my colleagues in New York, for example, include a handful of brilliant immigrant portfolio managers, without whom we'd have need for many fewer of the going on 100 staff, most of whom are native born Americans).

A lot of employers just need a reasonably intelligent person who can set his alarm clock and take a workman's pride in his product. Supply of these people outweighs demand, and employers naturally want to use immigration to increase the supply, and lower the market clearing wage. It's hard for Congress to say "no", because conservatives instinctively like the free market and want to help business and liberals instinctively distrust the notion that being Americans, just for being native-born Americans, should carry privileges that should be denied to foreigners.
posted by MattD at 4:43 AM on May 10, 2013 [3 favorites]


My mother still holds the same workers Visa she was first issued in 1974. She got her college degree here in the states and has only held one job outside the US (as an electrical engineer on an oil refinery in her home country). Outside of a couple of layoffs and a brief stint as a consultant (at a place where she now works as an FTE) she's been gainfully employed, paying taxes, and spending spending her income locally for nearly the entirety of the last 40 years now.

This month she had to drive 10+ hours to a city she's never been to renew her Visa because the immigration office 20 minutes from where she works was closed.

Conversely, I was born in this interesting land, got myself a handful of liberal arts degrees (Political Science and Philosophy with a Pre-Law concentration, minors in English, History, Communications, Classical Civ and Coaching)... and I'm an application analyst that works on a piece of software that my company paid upwards of $260 million last year to implement.

So on one hand: treat your "foreign" workers with respect. They're human beings too. Legislating them out of existence the country is not the answer.

On the other: Any of you who have even brought up the concept that you need a BS in computer science to be qualified for anything involving the tech industry is outright batshit insane. I mean, you might have a case for an engineer or a highly specialized system or something. But if you're turning away resumes because they have BA instead of BS in them then you're part of the problem here.
posted by Blue_Villain at 5:23 AM on May 10, 2013 [2 favorites]


Harper is busy expanding the foreign woprker program here in Canada and it's been a bit, um, rocky for many of the reasons detailed here. Our program works differently than the US but there is supposed to be an inability to hire Canadians for the job in order to bring people in. Needless to say when one of our big profitable banks recently used the program to lay off a bunch of long term employees in favour of foreign workers there was a bit of a kerfluffle. The government was already fielding questions because of plan to allow a mine to import foreign equipment operators; a job for which their is no serious lack of employees but a very serious lack of employees willing to work in remote locations for shit wages.
posted by Mitheral at 9:14 AM on May 10, 2013


This isn't about hiring new employees you can't find in the good old USA - it is about being able to move people companies ALREADY employee in other countries to work in the United States

You sound so confident for someone being completely wrong. There is a separate visa category for that, called L1, for people you are bringing to america who have worked in your company, its parent, its subsidiary or its affiliate for at least one year in the last three.
posted by jacalata at 10:22 AM on May 10, 2013


Harper is busy expanding the foreign woprker program here in Canada

That program is thew complete opposite of the US H1-B program - Canada's program was initially intended for low skill seasonal labour, like fruit pickers. That it's been allowed to expand to help desk and Timmie's workers is a bit worrisome.
posted by GuyZero at 10:37 AM on May 10, 2013


fireoyster: "Potentially uninformed question: What is the "Red State recruiting tax?" At the risk of perpetuating a stereotype, isn't the cost of living usually lower in "red states?""

Pope Guilty's mostly got it, but I'll share some anecdotes anyways.

I a friend that works for a high speed trading company formed by a former BATS employee, based out of Kansas City. They're growing and trying to recruit talented engineers. Whenever I forward this information on to my graduating senior student employees here in Oregon, the answer is always the same: "Yea, but you have to live in Kansas."

Garmin once bought a fitness and mapping lifestyle mapping website; heartbeat annotated upload GPS traces of your biking route sort of thing. The web developers were based in San Fransisco, Garmin is based in suburban KC. To save on costs, Garmin closed the office and moved the engineers to Garmin's world HQ. Said engineers dramatically and publicly quit en masse rather than relocate, essentially citing culture as their reason for departing.
posted by pwnguin at 12:11 PM on May 10, 2013 [2 favorites]


Now I'm in a soul-sucking job that I'm trying to escape, but coming up with no offers. I suspect the big difference is that I'm in my mid-50s. When I manage to get past the pre-screening and hook a live interview, I catch a vibe that says "this dude is too old" - usually delivered with "we don't think you're a good fit for the position" or more transparently, "we're a young company."

You have been Graylisted. I know it all too well myself. Why would a company hire an experienced professional with 30 years experience, when they could hire two young, inexperienced H1B slave workers for less money? Your career has been devalued by corporate interests that want to reduce their labor costs with H1B employees.
posted by charlie don't surf at 12:37 PM on May 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


they could hire two young, inexperienced H1B slave workers for less money?

Christ dude, do you tell people to "speak American" and "go back where you came from" too?
posted by GuyZero at 1:12 PM on May 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


"Highly-educated people generally don't want to live in the sticks or in really conservative places, so if your business is in such a place, prepare to pay a premium for such things because the supply is lower than it would be in, say, California or the PNW."

When I was just at a tech conference, the new hotness of tech recruiting is around Orlando, where the aerospace collapse left a bunch of highly skilled engineers unemployed. They get paid more than they would from companies that are based there, but cost less than people in areas with better established tech economies.

(Which is similar to one of my pals talking about managing a team that's in New York, San Diego and Indianapolis, and how the Indianapolis guys get paid less than the NY ones do by a huge amount, but that means that they live like kings there, with downtown lofts and shit that would be multi-million dollar pads in NY.)
posted by klangklangston at 2:00 PM on May 10, 2013


Highly-educated people generally don't want to live in the sticks or in really conservative places, so if your business is in such a place, prepare to pay a premium for such things because the supply is lower than it would be in, say, California or the PNW.

Interesting that there is so much less disdain for engineers who wish to live in big coastal cities than professors.

I have been told that part of the reason tech companies like Montreal is that people here are less mobile -- sure, they'll move from Abitibi to Montreal, but they won't go to Seattle, so the workforce is more stable.
posted by jeather at 2:28 PM on May 10, 2013


Montreal has a bunch of universities and yes, due to cultural factors Francophones are less likely to leave. Plus Montreal is an amazing city - who the hell would move from Montreal to Seattle? I mean, sorry Seattle, but Montreal is a better city in every measurable way. Well, ok, state/provincial income tax. WA has QC beat there.

Interesting that there is so much less disdain for engineers who wish to live in big coastal cities than professors.

I don't understand what this means. I assume professors don't want to move to crappy cities any more than engineers do. The main difference is that major universities are often surrounded by "cool" cities in areas that would otherwise seem "undesirable".
posted by GuyZero at 2:36 PM on May 10, 2013


I don't understand what this means. I assume professors don't want to move to crappy cities any more than engineers do. The main difference is that major universities are often surrounded by "cool" cities in areas that would otherwise seem "undesirable".

Whenever you see a post on the lack of jobs for PhD graduates (anywhere online), you get piles of snarky comments about how of course they could get jobs if they were just willing to live somewhere away from a coast, sure it pays less but the cost of living is cheaper, why so elitist? But about engineers, I don't see the pushback about "how dare these people want to live in a big coastal city".

yes, due to cultural factors Francophones are less likely to leave.

And the anglos who are happy to leave have, generally, already left.
posted by jeather at 2:40 PM on May 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


A lot of engineers work in the middle of nowhere because there are literally no other jobs. If you work in petroleum engineering, either upstream or downstream, you probably work in a small town at best. Software engineers are snooty because they can afford to be.
posted by GuyZero at 2:55 PM on May 10, 2013


Christ dude, do you tell people to "speak American" and "go back where you came from" too?

Oh fuck off. I can be opposed to the exploitation of vulnerable immigrant workers, AND irate at corporate interests that use them to displace me from jobs. Right now I have an application in for an IT job that should pay $55k minimum, and I know they intend to hire an H1B worker for about $25k.
posted by charlie don't surf at 3:37 PM on May 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


Well in the spirit of not being a total asshole I feel for you. But the narrow group of IT jobs where H1B visas get abused is not the entirety of the program.
posted by GuyZero at 4:07 PM on May 10, 2013


Great post, thank you. This situation is a mess and a pretty convoluted one too.

1. Yes there is a glut, BUT, there are many American degree holders and few if any places where they can make a living wage while gaining OJT and experience. It's more difficult than ever to break into job markets.

2. People from abroad often DO have plenty of OJT and have a working knowledge of their field because while the markets and numbers of jobs are smaller, there are fewer people with degrees in those fields...it's easier to get the OJT and experience.

3. Higher level education in the U.S. is a scam and a racket. I have encountered HUNDREDS of people who hold degrees masters and higher who, with a mild level of scrutiny, couldn't pass the 9th grade. It's a horror to me.

That doesn't include EVERYONE, especially not fellow Mefites, but very often when I get new folks...when I learn that they have an MBA or more and higher...I know my sandwich orders are going to be fucked up.

It makes me sad for humanity and I barely graduated H.S.
posted by snsranch at 4:26 PM on May 10, 2013


Here's an article by a Wharton professor making the same point being made by many of the people in this thread: companies are overly selective about who they hire, even when it hurts them, and they'd be better off training people for positions instead of complaining about skill shortages.
posted by astrofinch at 6:03 PM on May 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


I wish this had been posted 10 years ago.
posted by destro at 8:48 PM on May 10, 2013


Whenever you see a post on the lack of jobs for PhD graduates (anywhere online), you get piles of snarky comments about how of course they could get jobs if they were just willing to live somewhere away from a coast, sure it pays less but the cost of living is cheaper, why so elitist? But about engineers, I don't see the pushback about "how dare these people want to live in a big coastal city".

I think that's because the PhD grads come off as entitled since they don't have enough options to be choosy. It's a lot harder for people to fault engineers (or anyone else) for choosing the option available to them that they find most preferable.
posted by cosmic.osmo at 12:43 PM on May 11, 2013


In other news: Biometric Database of All Adult Americans Hidden in Immigration Reform
posted by homunculus at 1:23 PM on May 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


Ain't hard crafting fair immigration laws. Just let companies hire whoever they want, so long as they pay above average for that job category.
posted by jeffburdges at 3:16 AM on May 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


Given that h1b laws already say "pay above average" and the argument is that that isn't happening, I suspect there's more to it than that.
posted by jacalata at 8:38 AM on May 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


Pretty soon everyone will be getting paid above average!
posted by GuyZero at 2:05 PM on May 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


Yeah, fair enough, that restriction does little good if you cannot or will not effectively enforce it.

US Software Developer Wages Fell 2% Last Year
posted by jeffburdges at 12:37 AM on May 20, 2013


Building the STEAM Renaissance, the Era of Light & Achievement
posted by jeffburdges at 10:47 AM on May 21, 2013


« Older Trailer for The World's End, the final film in Edg...  |  Ryan Gosling Won't Eat His Cer... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments