Alice Tornquist, a Washington lobbyist for the high-tech firm Qualcomm, took the stage at a recent Qualcomm-underwritten conference to remind her audience that companies like hers face a dire shortage of university graduates in engineering. The urgent remedy she advocated was to raise the cap on visas for foreign-born engineers.
"Although our industry and other high-tech industries have grown exponentially," Tornquist said, "our immigration system has failed to keep pace." The nation's outdated limits and "convoluted green-card process," she said, had left firms like hers "hampered in hiring the talent that they need."
What Tornquist didn't mention was that Qualcomm may then have had more engineers than it needed: Only a few weeks after her June 2 talk, the San Diego company announced that it would cut its workforce, of whom two-thirds are engineers, by 15%, or nearly 5,000 people.
The mismatch between Qualcomm's plea to import more high-tech workers and its efforts to downsize its existing payroll hints at the phoniness of the high-tech sector's persistent claim of a "shortage" of U.S. graduates in the "STEM" disciplines — science, technology, engineering and mathematics....Actions speak louder than words.
Also, an interesting piece from the Boston Globe's David Scharfenberg on the "skills gap":
But critics insist there is a superficiality to those surveys. Ask any chief executive if he has trouble finding workers, and he will say yes.
MIT labor economist Paul Osterman and then-doctoral candidate Andrew Weaver conducted a more detailed survey of manufacturers in 2012 and 2013 and found most were seeking basic skills: reading a simple manual, adding, subtracting, multiplying, and dividing. And while a substantial minority, 38 percent, sought more advanced math skills for their core manufacturing jobs, most cited disciplines offered at a decent high school — algebra, geometry, trigonometry.
Weaver noted that employers, for the most part, are simply not demanding the high-level talents that the skills gap rhetoric would suggest. And policy makers err, he said, when they argue workers are falling behind. “The standard story that you hear a lot is ‘American workers just aren’t prepared for the 21st century . . . [they] just haven’t gotten the memo that they need to get a bunch more education,’ ” he said. The reality, he added, is that workers are, by and large, developing the skills they need to fill the available jobs.
And when Osterman and Weaver asked managers the proof-in-the-pudding question — do you have any long-term vacancies? — more than three-quarters said no.
Back at his humming Oxford factory, Kenneth Mandile reported no long-term vacancies of his own when the Globe visited. And after a lengthy chat in a small conference room off the factory floor, it was clear his story did not quite match the skills gap narrative. His difficulty finding workers who can operate the firm’s Swiss screw machines is not the result of some broad, new mismatch between 21st-century jobs and the skills of the workforce. It is, instead, a niche problem that goes back decades.
These days, Mandile says, his chief concern is not technical skills; he can teach those in-house. It’s finding workers with a good attitude and a good work ethic. The problem, he suggests, is not mechanical, it’s cultural. And that may be harder to fix.I hadn't heard of the Osterman/Weaver study; I'll have to look it up. Good stuff, more soon.