Tech Talent Shortage? What Tech Talent Shortage?

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Companies may be complaining that they can't find folks with the skills they need, but some policy wonks insist America is producing more than enough tech-savvy grads. What's going on? By Jessica Stillman (Editor, Women 2.0) For founders, the tech talent shortage is a constant headache. For some policy makers, it's a reason to revamp the immigration system to allow in more highly skilled foreigners. But for some analysts the tech talent shortage is something else: a total myth. That's the argument made by Jordan Weissman, an associate editor for The Atlantic, in a post appearing on Quartz recently. In it, Weissman rounds up new and existing research to show that actually the US is producing plenty of grads in necessary technical fields. He writes:

That whole skills shortage? It’s a myth, as was amply illustrated (yet again) by a report this week from the Economic Policy Institute. It still might be the case that tech companies are having trouble finding specific skill sets in certain niches (think cloud software development, or Android programming), but there simply aren’t any signs pointing to a broad dearth of talent. Colleges, for instance, are already minting far more programmers and engineers than the job market is absorbing. Roughly twice as many American undergraduates earn degrees in science, technology, engineering, and math disciplines than go on to work in those fields…. in 2009 less than two thirds of employed computer science grads were working in the IT sector a year after graduation.

Weissman goes on to outline problems with the existent H1-B visa program for highly skilled foreign workers and then suggests a policy compromise that lets in more of these immigrants, but no as many as tech companies are currently asking for. If you're interested in the policy debate, it's well worth a read in full. But if you're less enmeshed in the ins and outs of immigration reform and simply a woman in tech curious about the supply and demand for technical skills, Weissman's piece raises other interesting questions, the first, being what's up with the numbers he cites? How can there be such a mismatch between statistics and apparent reality on the ground? It seems unlikely that employers are lying when they complain they can't find the workers they need, and there's a clear demand for alternate training programs for developers, so why are so many CS grads not ending up in the field? Are some CS programs failing to prepare students for the jobs that are available, so that these grads, while tech savvy on paper are not sufficiently skilled in the eyes of employers? Are grads being turned off from pursuing work in the sector by other factors? Are employers being too picky and unwilling to train new hires?

Women 2.0 readers: What's your explanation for the mismatch between employers' experience of a talent shortage, and the numbers showing grads in these fields are plentiful?

Jessica Stillman is an editor at Women 2.0 and a freelance writer with interests in unconventional career paths, generational differences, and the future of work. She writes a daily column for Inc.com and has blogged for CBS MoneyWatch, GigaOM and Brazen Careerist, among others. Follow her on Twitter at @entrylevelrebel. Photo credit: hackNY via Flickr.