What About Experience?

Susan Hall

When I interviewed Louisville tech recruiter Ian Erskine of New Age Technologies last month, he told me companies generally are looking for developers with five to eight years of experience. He said those with more experience can "almost price themselves out of the market."


He also told me later that Louisville companies tend to be in la-la land about what developers with that specific level of experience should be paid. He's had to bring them back to reality of the market requirements for those workers.


I thought of that when I read an InformationWeek post that tech workers in Washington state say Microsoft and other tech companies are exaggerating the tech skills shortage. While Microsoft and other tech companies press for government to ease the visa rules, WashTech, an affiliate of the Communications Workers of America, is among the groups arguing they should be tighter.


It's a familiar argument - that it's just an excuse to bring in cheap H-1B help - one that gets my colleague Don Tennant's readers in a tizzy. Don's been on a tear lately writing about an Infosys visa fraud case. It's been accused of abusing the system, and a recent lawsuit also alleges age discrimination. (Don also believes that's more prevalent in IT than other professions.)


WashTech says the tech companies' problem in finding the talent they need is because they're focused on hiring younger, less expensive workers. I think that's happening in a lot of professions these days. A U.S. News & World Report article earlier this year found that the jobs being created were not ones going to workers of a certain age.


InformationWeek quotes Rennie Sawade, WashTech communications director, saying:

Experienced IT workers who are over 40 years old have a hard time even getting noticed by companies like Microsoft.

Sawade also says of the difficulty in finding talent in hot areas such as cloud computing and mobility:

I doubt the ones they are bringing over on H-1B visas necessarily have those skills. They give them a three-week crash course and then call them a Java programmer.

More troubling are the comments in this Bloomberg article at the San Francisco Chronicle by Professor Peter Cappelli at the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School. According to the article:

"We don't want to have to train anybody, and when those skills become obsolete, we don't want to retrain them," he says. Companies tend to hire people with IT engineering degrees, use those skills for five years, and then they want a new crop, says Cappelli, who researches human resource practices and talent management.
"It means they are hiring and laying off at the same time," Cappelli says. "It's a really bad thing for the economy and for the companies themselves, because it's putting them at the mercy of the labor market."

Cappelli has a book on why organizations need older workers. And turning 50 this year just like President Obama, Dan Pallotta has written a very thoughtful piece at Harvard Business Review outlining the business value of experience. It's well worth a read.

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