Give Microsoft Its Due for Addressing Tech Skills Shortage

Ann All

Back in 2007, I wrote about a Harvard Business School professor's contention that the shrinking number of U.S. college students studying engineering and computer science, along with a growing number of Chinese and Indian engineering students, presented "the greatest single threat to American prosperity." I shared some scary statistics, including a study by UCLA's Higher Education Research Institute that showed the number of incoming U.S. college freshmen intending to major in computer science dropped by 70 percent between 2000 and 2005.


I interviewed Christine Bullen of the Stevens School of Technology Management, who suggested who suggested that private companies, government entities and U.S. universities needed to work together to promote IT as a career. That's exactly what appears to be happening with a three-year, Microsoft-funded job training program called Elevate America.


As the Seattle Times reports, the company is working with state governments to distribute vouchers for Microsoft eLearning courses and select certification exams, such as those leading to Microsoft business certification. It will work with each state to determine how many and what kind of classes and certification exams will be offered for free and at reduced prices, with decisions based upon the demonstrated needs of each state. First up: Washington, followed by Florida and New York. It dovetails nicely with the broader federally funded economic stimulus.


For somewhat less technically inclined types, Microsoft launched a Web site that helps folks assess which technical skills may improve their job prospects and create a plan for obtaining them. It also provides some instruction in tech basics such as using the Internet and e-mail. I think that's an important piece to the jobs puzzle, considering that not all career opportunities require an engineering degree or even a college degree but simply some basic technical acumen. In a post from April, I discussed AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson's contention that his company was having trouble finding enough Americans with the right kinds of skills to fill technical support positions it was shifting from India back to the U.S. I wrote:

Many folks don't have the inclination or the financial resources to attend college. They need to know that if they apply themselves in high school, they can still get a decent entry-level job -- albeit not one where they can expect to make six figures.

This kind of effort is needed in light of the fact that China, India and other emerging economies are making heavy investments in boosting tech proficiency among their residents, as I noted in this post. I cited a Christian Science Monitor article in which a VP with the non-profit Asia Society compared educational efforts in emerging economies to the one that occurred after World War II in the U.S., when the government paid to educate veterans and invested heavily in the public education system.


It's nice to see Microsoft putting some philanthropic money where its mouth is. Microsoft hasn't revealed the cost of the program but said it's "substantial." Not that it won't benefit, of course. Getting more Microsoft-certified tech pros in the field is a good thing for the company, and it'll likely welcome the positive PR following Sen. Chuck Grassley's (R-IA) recent questioning about its use of H-1B visas. The company has said all along that it and other high-tech employers need more H-1Bs because of a "critical shortage" of Americans with the right kinds of skills.


Like many folks, I get pretty sick of all the Microsoft vs. Google stories. But philanthropy is one area in which I'd like to see their competition heat up. (And I'd like to see more tech companies, which all tend to get beaten up on the H-1B issue, doing so as well.) Nothing wrong with establishing a venture capital arm to provide financial assistance to tech start-ups, as Google did last year, or lobbying for policies encouraging clean energy as the search giant did last week, but I like Microsoft's cut-to-the-chase approach of helping job seekers obtain or improve tech education.

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Add Comment      Leave a comment on this blog post
Feb 23, 2009 3:36 PM On Looker On Looker  says:


You have it all wrong on two fronts. 

The training programs are nothing but a public relations opportunity. 

When these companies start hiring the many already trained people, and cease replacing them with lower cost H-1Bs then it will be more believable.

As for U.S. students not enrolling in Science and technology fields,

there is a simple and logical explaination.  American students are making

a rational choice.

The reason you have so many foreign students applying to graduate programs here is a deliberate choice by the federal government (National Science Foundation) to keep US academic and research salaries down. Foreign students will put up with low wages as teaching and research assistants in the hope of a future green card.

American students don't need green cards and find that the money they'd earn with a graduate science/engineering degree doesn't offset the income foregone in getting a graduate degree.

Importing H1-Bs and foregoing current unemployed well trained U.S. workers, further discourages American students from pursuing these fields. 

To try and disconnect the H-1B issue from the college enrollment issue is naive.

Feb 24, 2009 2:05 PM Americanit Americanit  says:


What rock did you crawl out from under?

Microsoft's laid off thousands of American workers and brought in Indian H1b replacements. Bill says that if they won't give him unlimited H1b's he'll move his company to Canada (Can I help him pack?)

His H1b's are so good they can't even calculate exit packages correctly.

If Mr. Bill hates Americans so badly, move to India; as he seems to prefer them to Americans.

Feb 25, 2009 6:47 PM FUMS FUMS  says:

Your are just a traitorous bitch who deserves to be shot in the coming 2ed American Revolution

Mar 1, 2009 7:39 PM David Hart David Hart  says:

Dear Ann,

You are a limousine smoked glass idiot.

I guess you haven't noticed that Mr. Gates has blacklisted thousands of Americans since the early 2000s.

College students know they can't get jobs in IT so they don't bother building up school loans they can never repay.

We need to replace Congress with people who actually care about the future of America rather than making a quick buck.

I have a concrete suggestion...

Go to CareererBuilder.com and create any number of Cover Letters and Resumes that precisely match job requirements.

After submitting your paperwork, wait FOREVER for an interview because your name is American.

If you're not an Indian, you're NOT getting a job.

Mar 1, 2009 7:45 PM Mike L. Mike L.  says: in response to Americanit

   I think what Bill Gates is doing is a wonderful gesture. With so many people out of work and not having the technical skills needed in today's

work environment, what's wrong with wanting to reach out and teach

people how to work on computers? Some may say it's just another way for Microsoft to make more money, but I think Bill Gates does it from the heart. If this program can create jobs and help stimulate the economy, I'm all for it!!

    I've always supported  Bill Gates desire to better education and make our country more competitive. 

   If Bill Gates and Warren Buffet are willing to donate billions of dollars to this cause, I say "God Bless" them.


Mar 1, 2009 7:47 PM USA Programmer USA Programmer  says:

Total BS.

It stinks.

Please join me at the soup kitchen and we'll talk about it.

Mar 1, 2009 7:54 PM david david  says:

The reason there is a shortage is college students see the handwriting on the wall with outsourcing. Make IT attractive again (pay, no outsourcing to India, benefits) and they will come.

Bill is full of it when he says there is a shortage. Congress buys his shtick because most of them don't know how to turn on a computer much less understand the ramifications of this issue. What's the percentage of congressman who arePeld vs. the legal field.

Mar 1, 2009 7:55 PM Tunnel Rat Tunnel Rat  says:

Sorry Ann, but there is no "programmer shortage." It is a canard created by the H[indu]-1B lobby and shills like yourself.  There are plenty of qualified American developers, ready to work in the I.T. industry.  But they have been displaced by an insular, nepotistic clan of immigrants, primarily upper-caste Indians. 

You need to do some reading, sweety.  I have some org charts to send you -- they diagram the systematic ethnic cleansing of Americans in corporate I.T.  The before and afters are shocking.  What was a diverse organization of Smiths, Coopers, Lees, etc. (ie, Americans, and all sorts of immigrants) is now exclusively Kumars, Patels, Jabbals, etc.  It is de-facto discrimination of Americans, and needs to end.

Mar 2, 2009 10:18 AM debug debug  says:

Hi Ann,

Please check and interview unemployed IT Americans.  There is no skills shortage.  The shortage is what Microsoft wants to pay for an employee.  I don't know why Evil Bill Gates hate IT Americans when he made his money from Americans.  Shame on you Mr Bill a lot of Americans are unemployed, starving and just trying to survive.  Not of all us have billions to keep us fed and warm.

I hope you will write another article based on real facts.  Thanks

Mar 3, 2009 7:01 PM Ann All Ann All  says:

Even an empty gesture can be a good thing in the end. I am not saying this is an empty gesture, necessarily, though I did note that Microsoft will gain some benefit from this initiative. But if it results in any new jobs and/or helps more Americans become interested in gaining IT skills, I have a hard time seeing it as a bad thing. This issue is more nuanced than most folks are willing to admit, and knee-jerk reactions result in anything other than similar actions in return. The two sides here need to find some common ground. Might I suggest improving the K-12 U.S. educational system? We'll need to replace all of the non-natives w/ IT skills who, as Vivek Wadhwa points out, are now increasingly returning to their own countries for opportunities after getting their U.S. degrees. http://tinyurl.com/dejfjz


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