Is IT Labor Shortage a 'Self-Serving Myth?'

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IT employment appears to be one of the few bright spots in an otherwise dismal job market, with the United States adding 40,000 tech jobs in February and experts predicting continued strength in the coming months.


With this kind of hiring going on, it's not hard to believe -- as Microsoft's Bill Gates and others contend -- that American companies are having trouble finding enough employees to fill all the available jobs. I, like many other members of the media, have been pretty quick to buy the idea of an IT staff shortage.


So this Baseline article that calls the alleged shortage a "self-serving myth" certainly caught my eye. Is it possible that companies seeking the easing of immigration restrictions and others with less-than-pure motives are fabricating or at least exaggerating a shortage?


The article cites research by Duke University's Vivek Wadhwa, whose surveys of human resources professionals show little evidence of an IT staff shortage, despite the conflicting anecdotal opinions of senior management. Both Wadhwa and Ron Hira, a fellow at the Economic Policy Institute, note that IT salaries are not rising as steeply as might be expected in the event of a shortage.


Indeed, the Urban Institute's Hal Salzman says the industry's relatively flat salaries aren't encouraging top students to seek careers in IT. I blogged back in September about a Network World survey that found IT pros largely dissatisfied with their salaries.


Salzman has produced research that indicates that America's universities produce a more-than-adequate number of science, technology and engineering students to meet the available job demand. Salzman tells Baseline that the industry is experiencing "hiring difficulty" due to "unrealistic expectations" rather than a true shortage. Says Salzman:

I once had a manager talking about difficulty in finding a Java programmer with ten years java experience and who he wanted to come into a mid-level Java position. Java's been around for what, 12 years now? There are probably not a lot of these folks around who have that much experience and who are willing to work at that level.

Though unrealistic expectations may sometimes be to blame, there do appear to be legitimate shortages of staff with skills in still-emerging technologies like service-oriented architecture. Writes IT Business Edge blogger Loraine Lawson:

Isn't it pretty obvious you're going to have a hard time finding workers with service-oriented architecture experience, given how few organizations have built SOAs and how many are starting to build them? It's simple supply and demand, people.

There are several possible talent pools for tech companies to consider, says Wadhwa, including savvy business folks who wouldn't need much additional training to get their tech skills up to speed and older workers that are largely ignored by the tech industry