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The White House's US$100 million, H-1B funded tech job plan comes under fire

Patrick Thibodeau | March 10, 2015
Obama administration says there are 545,000 IT job openings, but experts question that number.

Norm Matloff, a professor of computer science at the University of California-Davis who has long challenged the idea that there's a shortage of technical talent, said "the subtext of the White House announcement is to justify expanding the H-1B program."

Matloff said it's the "old 'Let's train Americans so that employers don't need to hire H-1Bs' argument, and that argument is demonstrably false," he said.

"Just look at all the cases, including the recent Southern California Edison incident, in which Americans are laid off and forced to train their foreign-worker replacements; Clearly, it's the foreign workers who need the training, not the Americans," said Matloff. "The fact is that employers don't want to hire Americans; they want cheap, immobile labor."

The estimate of 545,000 IT job openings was met with skepticism by Victor Janulaitis, the CEO of Janco Associates, which analyzes the tech labor market. He said the number of job openings is "nowhere near" that estimate, and may be closer to 60,000. By the White House estimate it would mean that nearly 17% of the IT labor market has unfilled jobs.

But a lot of the openings are for specific skills and experience, and not entry level jobs, said Janulaitis. Technologists with specialties in security, containerization, cloud-based apps and big data can find jobs. "The real issue is when entry-level positions will be available," he said.

David Foote, the CEO of Foote Partners, an IT labor analyst firm, said an accounting of the tech labor force comes down to how IT jobs are defined. The feds use a narrow definition, which puts the labor force at about 5 million IT jobs. His firm, however, estimates that there may be as many as 24 million IT jobs, and counts jobs outside an IT department, as technology is embedded in all lines of a business.


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