Readers Respond: Talent on the Cheap?

By CIOinsight  |  Posted 03-08-2007
Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates told Congress this week that the U.S. has an I.T. skills shortage that requires it to be more open to foreign-born tech workers. Here are some observations from readers who responded to "Opinion: We Trained Them, We Should (Be Allowed To) Keep Them" by CIO Insight Executive Editor Eric Chabrow. Responses have been edited for clarity.

What do you think about this issue? Send your thoughts to: onlineeditors@cioinsight.com

Pay People What They're Worth
You have got be kidding about supporting Gates' decision to keep students here. The only reason he says this is because he refuses to pay decent middle-class wages to people who already have the needed skill sets in this country. If you look at many of Microsoft's openings, they want people with Master's degrees or 10 years of experience for $30 an hour and no benefits. By hiring who he's trained, he is forcing the market to lower wages of competent workers.

More than 5 million talented I.T. professionals' jobs have been eliminated or downsized in the last 5 years. Where did all of this talent disappear to? Lower-paying jobs to make ends meet, often outside of the technical arena. If Gates wants technical talent, he needs to stop adding to the problem. Technical staff can earn more by waiting tables than providing the tools for multi-billion dollar companies to pay their executives 8-digit golden parachute packages.

Let's keep things in perspective. The talent is here—big business just doesn't want to pay for it.
—Joe Feyereisen
Sr. Project Manager
Raetech

-------------------------------------------------------------

Tax on Foreign Students?
Yes, Bill Gates is right, but maybe we ought to consider another avenue as well. Maybe we should tax foreign students ($100/credit?) because in some sense we are exporting education. The idea is based on my assumption that students who are U.S. citizens will probably stay in this country, but non-citizens are more likely to leave and take their newly obtained education with them. And since the foreign student was taking up a spot that would otherwise have been used to educate a U.S .citizen, the money raised by the tax should be directed toward improvements in our education system. Just a thought.
—Stu Joseph

-------------------------------------------------------------

Looking for Cheap Labor
Ridiculous.

Anyone can plainly see that Bill is just after cheap labor. And creating "government- and business-backed retraining programs to help displaced American I.T. professionals by giving them new, marketable technology skills" is a contradiction. If we have a "shortage" problem, no one would be displaced and require new skills.
—Frank M.

-------------------------------------------------------------

Better Training for Americans
Here's a better idea: Start funding training for Americans. Then, this becomes a non-issue. Bill Gates should focus on developing high-tech universities and high schools (which I believe he has done, to an extent) that will train Americans rather than trying to import workers, or export the work.

The bigger question is, why do we waste (for lack of a better term) resources on training foreigners who we know can't, or don't want to, stay in America? Clearly there is no reciprocal benefit, and the goodwill of the U.S. is obfuscated by security issues.
—Anonymous Reader

-------------------------------------------------------------

Educational Incentives
I worked for a software company a few years ago that hired some programmers from India for a short-term project. I, as the Systems Programmer for the company, got to share an office with them, and got to know them fairly well.

They were all great guys. However, they weren't hired because there was a shortage of programmers. They were hired because they worked for much less than an American-born worker. That is still the motivation behind the H1B controversy, in my opinion.

If there is a shortage of I.T. workers from the U.S., why don't the U.S. companies invest in U.S. workers by providing educational incentives? Educational institutions should also make it easier for U.S. citizens to get an education instead of continuously increasing their tuition. A good share of foreign-born, U.S.-educated people come to the U.S. on scholarships form their countries or are from well-to-do families. The average American just can't compete monetarily for an education.

The other problem that I see is that employees have become a commodity for companies rather than an asset. It's easier to hire a foreign-born worker for less money than to invest in American workers.

Bottom line for me, after being in I.T. since 1980, is that I would recommend against a career in IT for anyone going to college.
—Raymond Huning
Technology Coordinator
El Tejon Unified School District

-------------------------------------------------------------

On the Mark
You're right on the money. The practice over the past several years of restricting the number of graduating students and high-end tech types that can work in this country was really a double whammy. First, it drove up to unsustainable levels the salaries of those who could work here—as well as U.S. citizens who commanded higher salaries than their skill set and experience were worth. That led to the outsourcing boom, which put those same foreign-born people to work in their native countries at the same (now outsourced) jobs.

Training highly intelligent knowledge workers in U.S. universities—perhaps reducing the number of slots for U.S.-born students as a result—and then not allowing them to work in this country (and buy cars, houses, and iPods) is insane.
—William Lanzen

-------------------------------------------------------------

Pay for Good Work
You've obviously drunk the Gates Kool-Aid. Did you miss the whole part about wages and benefits dropping while foreign workers take jobs at a percentage of the prevailing wage? Do you believe that wages will stabilize just because a man who has been lying for years says so? Okay, forget all that. Have you seen the quality of work done by these workers? Take a look at Office Live. It's a piece of junk, and the support for it is worse. I received so many illiterate, unrelated support responses that I gave up on the product.

People like you will help drive the tech industry into the ground. Already we see the effects on the middle-class, which now faces wage pressure, a lack of benefits, and non-existent retirement plans. What do you think happens next? The middle-class will stop spending. When it does, the whole house of cards falls down.

Gates is a liar. He doesn't need foreign workers; he needs to encourage Americans to continue working in the tech industry by offering wages and benefits that fit the skill levels he says he needs. If Home Depot and other companies can hand out millions for doing poor work, maybe Gates and his cronies can hand out a few thousand for good work instead of whining that they can't buy it cheap enough.
—Mark Allshouse
York, PA

-------------------------------------------------------------

Better Language Skills Needed
For once, I agree with Gates. But I think something needs to be done with those who require greater skills in English. I can't count how many times I've had to ask a help desk tech repeat what they said because of their accent. I realize the aforementioned article refers to imports in IT specialties or management, but the language barrier is still a problem.

Keeping foreign talent also begs another question: Why are we falling so short that we need to retain foreign abilities? Is it a lack of incentive? A lack of tech background? And what's being done to address this?

Don't get me wrong—regardless of national origin, I.T. skills and knowledge are more than welcome! It would be good, however, to level the playing field: Take action to learn from foreign I.T., and promote improved English skills through continuing education.
—Paul Werner

-------------------------------------------------------------

Aging Baby Boomers Speak Out
H1B Visas for I.T. workers? Time to put the snakes back into Pandora's Box and close the lid. As someone at the tail end of the Baby Boomer generation, I have been "downsized" more than once to make way for poorly trained workers at half the salary. As a director at one company, I was put in the dubious position after 9/11 of having to outplace about 30 people, nearly all of whom were foreign-born workers here on soon-to-expire H1B visas. Most of these workers left the company within three years to seek graduate degrees—on student visas, no less. So the true cost was much greater than salary and benefits; the recruiting and training costs were staggering. The company should have kept the talented boomers instead of pushing them out one by one as they neared 40.

You get what you pay for. Workers with poor communication and poor technical skills who work on the cheap are "dumbing down" the work force. The U.S. needs to improve its technical talent pool to the level where we were two or three decades ago. I am tired of the new market structure for I.T. talent that Bill Gates, Larry Ellison and others in the Forbes 500 support. I.T. consulting firms hire aging Baby Boomers and H1B visa workers alike on the cheap, often with few or no benefits. All while the big corporations get R&D grants, use cheap labor, and have record-breaking revenues.

I started my own business, and have passed the five-year mark. I have made an impact in my field and am much happier—and better paid. And I don't worry about my next assignment.
—JSB

-------------------------------------------------------------

One-Sided View
I find your article to be pathetically one-sided. The side you have chosen to take is that of a billionaire whose interest is clearly the bolstering of his bottom line regardless of the consequences.

I am one of those "baby boomers rapidly mov[ing] into their later years," as you describe us. I lost my long-term job (in the telecomm industry) over 3 1/2 years ago when it was outsourced overseas, and since then I have not been able to find a permanent position for anything even close to my former salary, in spite of excellent skills, a very solid record of successful projects and achievements, and a work ethic that is second to none. I have been able to find temporary or contract jobs for most of the last 2 1/2 years, but at much lower pay rates and no benefits except those I pay completely for.

I have had no success in finding a full-time position, even though I am willing to accept a salary 25% or 30% lower than what I used to make. And that is certainly not through a lack of effort. So my question: If companies are truly worried, as you claim, "about recruitment and retention" of tech professionals who have the skills, experience and motivation to get the job done, why do so many of us find it impossible to be recruited and retained by those companies?

My assessment is that those companies are actually worrying about something very different from what you claim (and what you attribute to Mr. Gates). And my feeling is that your opinion piece is targeted more toward serving the interests of your advertisers and corporate sponsors than addressing the real issues or in reflecting the perspective of your wider reader community.

Shame on you.
—Jim Peterson