Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Annoying high-tech unemployment tropes

There's a New York Times article from a few days ago about the recent immigration/technology kerfluffle that doesn't really have much new to offer the debate. There's the heart-rending stories of out-of-work older engineers and the constant protestations from the think tank community that yes, there isn't much direct evidence that high-skilled immigration hurts American employees -- if you've been reading about this issue, it's pretty standard (and in the case of the think tank papers, irritating).  I found a few things to be worth comment, though. From the article:
It is true that for certain categories of engineers, wages are not going up as sharply as one would expect if good engineering talent were indeed hard to find. But it is also true that engineers with certain specialties, like software development, are hard to find. 
Intel, for instance, which has more than 50,000 employees in the United States, said it has 1,000 openings. Motorola Solutions said it was scrambling for software engineers. And unemployment among technology professionals is generally about half the national average, buttressing the industry’s claims.
First, is anyone else annoyed by companies complaining about their numbers of openings? I don't really think it's indicative of very much; perhaps I am incorrect. I do believe in advertised openings, even though those can be tricky too -- there doesn't seem to be much incentive to spend money to advertise some position that doesn't really exist.* But I'm really crazed by this comparison of the high-tech community's unemployment rate versus the national average. That's a meaningless comparison by the New York Times -- are we really going to compare a group of people with highly in-demand skills and 85+% bachelor's degrees against a society where 30% have a bachelor's degree? (If you compare against all bachelor degree holders (linked helpfully by the Times themselves, 4th chart down), the gap between non-STEM B.S. holders (4.4%) and STEM/computer B.S. holders (3%) narrows to something more realistic.)

Finally, there's this gem from Intel in the article:
Already, the fight over high-skilled immigration has led to arguments and counterarguments on the Senate floor, with one side warning that jobs will go to workers from overseas and the other rallying for Americans first. 
But Ardine Williams, the vice president for human resources at Intel, said that hiring Americans is not always practical. Asked about hiring unemployed engineers in this country, she said, “I encounter those folks as well. They are skilled and have expertise outside of an area where we need engineers. In some cases they haven’t kept their skills current.”
Well, I find that supporting tax cuts for large profitable multi-national consumer electronics firms is getting less and less practical, myself. Perhaps we could come to some agreement, yes?

*I'm sure there are reasons, and that you'll tell me about them. 

21 comments:

  1. The Aqueous LayerJuly 3, 2013 at 11:11 AM

    But Ardine Williams, the vice president for human resources at Intel, said that hiring Americans is not always practical. Asked about hiring unemployed engineers in this country, she said, “I encounter those folks as well. They are skilled and have expertise outside of an area where we need engineers. In some cases they haven’t kept their skills current.”

    And we sure as hell don't want to TRAIN those people, now do we? Not when a steady supply of cheap labor is coming on in...

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  2. My sense from talking with people who actually work at Intel, is that there's a lot of turnover. And I mean A LOT. Funny that reporters never ask them about this.

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    1. I got an offer from Intel after finishing grad school. The culture there is no joke. You're shackled to an instrument. In the event that instrument goes down, you're expected to be there fixing it. 24 h at work? Yep. Apparently if you make it to 7 years they offer a paid sabbatical. I took a job at half (and I do mean HALF) the pay to have a life outside of work.

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  3. This pretty much says it all:

    "Silicon Valley companies, warning of an acute labor shortage, say it is too costly to retrain older workers like Mr. Doernberg, and that the country is not producing enough younger Americans with the precise skills the industry needs."

    Its easier to get exactly trained labor from China and India then to retrain expensive americans.

    The good news is that grants to universities that train PhD's are drying up, so there will be fewer positions in American PhD programs to fill with immigrants.

    Funny how you cant take an anti-immigration stance without sounding like a bigot. Oh well.

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    1. So you don't want to retrain older workers because they cost too much, and then you wonder why younger workers don't want to spend lots of money to work in your field so they can be umemployed and unemployable at 40. Gee, I can't imagine.

      If it's a business and not an individual (or lots of them) that have a problem with the supply of things regulated by the market, it must be a defect in the market that requires giving them what they want. Funny how that works.

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    2. Anon 2:56 actually did a good job at taking an anti-immigration stance without sounding like a bigot. Damn.

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  4. "But Americans like Mr. Doernberg and the powerful labor lobby..."

    Where is this "powerful labor lobby" fighting for engineers' and scientists' jobs? Is the NYTimes cutting and pasting from some other story? Are they reporting from Bizarro New York?

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    1. Organized labor has been the main non-GOP political force that has been fairly skeptical of immigration reform. (NB that Economic Policy Institute has been the main skeptic think tank on the high-skilled immigration side.)

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    2. There is exactly one labor organization for engineers...and only for one company (Boeing). With all due respect, organized labor (what there's left of it) doesn't give a fig about us, which is precisely why the H1-B program exists.

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    3. I've tried to imagine other fields acting like academic chemistry labs. Such as having a Michigan auto factory where the Chinese manager hires only Chinese workers and imports them direct from China. His workers are in his factory for long hours, have limited English skills and interaction with their surroundings. After a few years, before their pay increases, they are sent home.

      Of course that would be silly! Unless you're in one of several academic labs that I know of in Ann Arbor, of course.

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  5. The convenience store where my wife works always has signs advertising CSR positions. Therefore, there must be a shortage of people able to work as CSRs (especially with the sign outside saying how much they care about their workers). It couldn't possibly be that they pay poorly relative to other alternatives (no shift differential, pay less than equally inconvenient and easier jobs), have difficult and low-paying paths to advancement (managers have lots more responsibility but not much more pay), or (despite the sign) don't actually value their employees very much.

    Where are the visas?

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  6. "Silicon Valley companies, warning of an acute labor shortage, say it is too costly to retrain older workers like Mr. Doernberg, and that the country is not producing enough younger Americans with the precise skills the industry needs"

    Man, it must suck to be old. What, born in the 60s....ruh roh......

    The solution for Americans is obvious: STOP GETTING OLDER AND YOU'LL KEEP WORKING.

    There, my brilliant MBA mind has solved another issue. What's next?

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    1. But we'll still need costly retraining even if 60 is the new 30.

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    2. Pfft - everyone knows 75 is the new 30. ;-)

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    3. Yup. If you can cut calories by 40% since you reached puberty. Drop the Chalipa, CJ

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  7. I found that Dan Rather put together some pretty good, in-depth reports about the reality on the ground for STEM workers. I suggest those of you who are bombarded from friends and relatives who don't understand why you can't write your own ticket with your fancy science degree, show these to them.

    This one shows the plight of high-tech workers in general:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OeoBWzIRuic

    This one is specific to science PhDs:
    Dan Rather Reports - PhDon't!
    If you have DirecTV or Xfinity, you can get it on demand. Otherwise it's also on itunes.

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    1. Watching the first episode I was debating "Is this just xenophobia, or do they have a point?"

      I have decided it's both. The people are xenophobic ("There are 15 Indian restaurants!!!"). But they do have a point in that these people are being brought over and jobs are being outsourced because it's the closest thing to slave labor as these companies can legally do.

      Now, I can't watch the second one because I don't have directv or xfinity, and I refuse to install itunes on my computer, but I imagine the chorus is something similar.

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    2. I don't think it's xenophobia (well, maybe 10%). They are just making an observation that the companies brought in a lot of people they can take advantage of. And like I said in another thread, one of the workers there mentioned that the Indians are afraid to disappoint their boss in any way because their being in the country is tied to their job (like the first woman said). Obviously, the solution would be to give Indians you admit into the country equal rights. That would mean that companies would be a little more careful with firing Americans if the replacement wasn't an indentured servant.

      I loved a quote from the last guy: "They think that their managerial skill-set is something special, something unique. Anyone can do our job, but their tool-kit is not something an Indian can do. Give me a break."

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    3. This is the brilliance of this type of labor arbitrage. It's so Orwellian: you start to question why there are so many Indians moving into your Redmond, WA neighborhood even as your American coworkers were laid off from Microsoft. You have just committed the thoughtcrime of xenophobia and must exercise crimestop immediately to purge yourself of these unwelcome thoughts. In so doing, you instinctively fall back to the Newspeak that has been drilled into your head, "The party says there is a shortage of STEM workers."

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  8. Always a listing of number of job openings; never a listing of number of job applicants per opening or applicants interviewed per opening.

    Of course there is always a shortage of purple and blue striped 5'7" engineers who will work long hours for A-holes at low wages and never complain, who speak 12 languages fluently, attended one of the 3 top engineering schools, was the captain of the football team that went to a bowl game and who was named top player of the conference, volunteered for the save the whales organization for 20 hours per week, never smoked pot, flossed every day, was class president, was a Lions Club award winner, was an Eagle Scout, never missed Sunday School and is knowledgeable in the latest computer tongue developed just last week. However gobs of such talent with this type of pedigree does seem to readily available from off-shore sources, and it is cheap too.

    Why anyone in the US would spend big money and years of training to get a STEM degree that maybe has a 10 year shelf-life at most is a mystery to me.

    Wrong: Today's 40 is yesteryear's 62; you know the new forced early retirement age.

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  9. Socialist artificial manipulation of the labor market.

    By artificially lowering the price of a commodity (in this case labor) you discourage production (American students from entering STEM) leading to a shortage of that commodity, leading to a demand for more market manipulation.

    Fortunately for the cheap labor shills, the propaganda spin machine has been working overtime to convince students that a career in STEM will actually provide them with a middle class lifestyle.


    Signed Former engineer who trained his H-1B replacement and is now re-training as a lawyer.

    I plan on specializing in age and national origin (American) discrimination lawsuits, clearly there is a BIG demand.

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