The alleged IT talent shortage

These New York Times reporters are either dumb — or lazy. Here’s a story about how tech companies are training up a new generation of workers because of a shortage of technical talent. They never even bother to investigate whether there’s a discrepancy between what companies tell them, and the qualifications of laid off workers:

There are likely to be 150,000 computing jobs opening up each year through 2020, according to an analysis of federal forecasts by the Association for Computing Machinery, a professional society for computing researchers. But despite the hoopla around start-up celebrities like Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook, fewer than 14,000 American students received undergraduate degrees in computer science last year, the Computing Research Association estimates. And the wider job market remains weak.

“People can’t get jobs, and we have jobs that can’t be filled,” Brad Smith, Microsoft’s general counsel who oversees its philanthropic efforts, said in a recent interview.

Big technology companies have complained for years about a dearth of technical talent, a problem they have tried to solve by lobbying for looser immigration rules to accommodate more foreign engineers and sponsoring tech competitions to encourage student interest in the industry. Google, for one, holds a programming summer camp for incoming ninth graders and underwrites an effort called CS4HS, in which high school teachers sharpen their computer science skills in workshops at local universities.

Anyone who’s been around the IT industry knows what a bunch of horse hockey this is. From the Global Affairs blog:

The so called “shortage” is a self made shortage by the companies who want to hire the knowledge at cut rate prices. Individuals in their 40s and 50s find themselves increasingly locked out of jobs they can easily do because the company doesn’t want to pay them for that experience. Even when individuals are desperate for that job, and are willing to take any pay just so they can work, it’s a rare occurrence indeed to be even granted an interview. And the longer one is unemployed, the worse it gets as now the company will claim that you’ve been out of the field too long and aren’t current on today’s technology.

So the next time you see some CEO crying about how it’s so damned difficult to fill their spots, stop and think about what they’re really saying. What they really mean is they’re unable to find some kid who can do the job for peanuts and don’t want to hire anyone out of the existing glut of unemployed tech experts who would kill for just an interview.

Norman Matloff, a professor of computer science at UC Davis, puts it this way:

But won’t those laid-off HP engineers be snapped up by the booming tech sector? Many will not.

The tech job market is excellent for younger workers, but many of those who are laid off and over 35 will find the market less welcoming. They’re perceived as too expensive. The HP layoff will consist disproportionately of older workers. Indeed, jettisoning the veterans is often the hidden agenda in mass layoffs. It’s no coincidence that many of the U.S. core engineering openings at HP have titles like Recent Graduate, Intern and Post Doc, all aimed at the younger crowd.

The difficulties of older techies have been investigated statistically in studies at American University and the National Research Council, but a very public human face was placed on this recently in an online town hall meeting with President Obama.

The wife of electrical engineer Darin Wedel explained to the president that her husband has never found a permanent job after being laid off by the electronics giant Texas Instruments. Granted, family issues restricted him to the Dallas area, but if the hype regarding a seller’s market for engineers were true, Wedel should have been able to find something in that region, which sadly has not been the case.

We’ve seen it over and over. Tech companies insist Americans can’t fill their positions (at slave wages), so they push for more H-1B visas for workers who are willing to work for much lower salaries. And so it goes in our brave new world.

The real referendum

Krugman reminds us that if reelected, Obama’s victory “will be a clear reassertion of support for the safety net, and a clear rejection of politicians who want to return us to the Gilded Age.” But he points out the pressure from Beltway insiders for the Grand Bargain will be overwhelming:

And Mr. Obama should just say no, for three reasons.


First, despite years of dire warnings from people like, well, Alan Simpson and Erskine Bowles, we are not facing any kind of fiscal crisis. Indeed, U.S. borrowing costs are at historic lows, with investors actually willing to pay the government for the privilege of owning inflation-protected bonds. So reducing the budget deficit just isn’t the top priority for America at the moment; creating jobs is. For now, the administration’s political capital should be devoted to passing something like last year’s American Jobs Act and providing effective mortgage debt relief.


Second, contrary to Beltway conventional wisdom, America does not have an “entitlements problem.” Mainly, it has a health cost problem, private as well as public, which must be addressed (and which the Affordable Care Act at least starts to address). It’s true that there’s also, even aside from health care, a gap between the services we’re promising and the taxes we’re collecting — but to call that gap an “entitlements” issue is already to accept the very right-wing frame that voters appear to be in the process of rejecting.


Finally, despite the bizarre reverence it inspires in Beltway insiders — the same people, by the way, who assured us that Paul Ryan was a brave truth-teller — the fact is that Simpson-Bowles is a really bad plan, one that would undermine some key pieces of our safety net. And if a re-elected president were to endorse it, he would be betraying the trust of the voters who returned him to office.


Consider, in particular, the proposal to raise the Social Security retirement age, supposedly to reflect rising life expectancy. This is an idea Washington loves — but it’s also totally at odds with the reality of an America in which rising inequality is reflected not just in the quality of life but in its duration. For while average life expectancy has indeed risen, that increase is confined to the relatively well-off and well-educated — the very people who need Social Security least. Meanwhile, life expectancy is actually falling for a substantial part of the nation.


Now, there’s no mystery about why Simpson-Bowles looks the way it does. It was put together in a political environment in which progressives, and even supporters of the safety net as we know it, were very much on the defensive — an environment in which conservatives were presumed to be in the ascendant, and in which bipartisanship was effectively defined as the effort to broker deals between the center-right and the hard right.


Barring an upset, however, that environment will come to an end on Nov. 6. This election is, as I said, shaping up as a referendum on our social insurance system, and it looks as if Mr. Obama will emerge with a clear mandate for preserving and extending that system. It would be a terrible mistake, both politically and for the nation’s future, for him to let himself be talked into snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.

Trust me

From Informed Comment, food for thought:

President Obama’s personal involvement in selecting the targets of covert drone strikes means he risks effectively handing a ‘loaded gun’ to Mitt Romney come November, says the co-author of a new report aimed at US policymakers.


‘If Obama leaves, he’s leaving a loaded gun: he’s set up a programme where the greatest constraint is his personal prerogative. There’s no legal oversight, no courtroom that can make [the drone programme] stop. A President Romney could vastly accelerate it,’ said Naureen Shah, associate director of the Counterterrorism and Human Rights Project at the Columbia Law School.


The president ‘personally approves every military target’ in Yemen and Somalia and around a third of targets in Pakistan, the report says. The remainder of strikes in Pakistan are decided by the CIA, so are even further from formal decision-making processes and public scrutiny.


‘We are asking President Obama to put something in writing, to disclose more, because he needs to set up the limitations of the programme before someone else takes control,’ Shah told the Bureau.


In The Civilian Impact of Drones: Unexamined Costs, Unanswered Questions, experts from Columbia Law School and the Center for Civilians in Conflict examine the impact of the US ‘war on terror’ on the lives of civilian Pakistanis, Yemenis and Somalis caught in the crossfire. The report’s publication marks the anniversary of the assassination of US citizen Anwar al-Awlaki by a US drone in Yemen.


The report, which Shah said is ‘aimed squarely at policymakers’, calls on the Obama administration to justify its drone campaigns and their targets under international law. It also calls for a task force to examine what measures are in place to protect civilians.


‘The perception is that civilian casualties are not a problem. If you say otherwise, you’re accused of being naïve and being a pawn of al Qaeda… There’s an instinctual dismissal of reporting that shows there’s a casualty problem,’ said Shah.

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