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Michael Price

Once again, Microsoft Tells Policymakers It Needs More Skilled Workers; Critics Respond

Yesterday, Microsoft officials told policymakers at a Washington, D.C. Brookings Institution forum on immigration policy that it has 6000 open positions for computer scientists, programmers, and other IT professionals but can’t find skilled workers to fill them, according to an article today in InformationWeek.

“[Microsoft chief counsel Brad] Smith said the problem is twofold: U.S. colleges aren’t turning out enough grads educated in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM), and the U.S. government’s immigration policies are preventing the company from importing enough foreign workers to fill the gap,” reports the article’s author, Paul McDougall.
Smith’s claim should be familiar to anyone who’s been following the debate over the so-called “skills gap” in the United States. He said the same thing at the U.S. News & World Report STEM Solutions 2012 leadership summit in Dallas, Texas, in July. Beryl Benderly of Science Careers argued then that as many employers say they aren’t enough highly skilled workers, thousands of highly skilled Americans, with education that would appear to prepare them reasonably well for such jobs (with, perhaps, a bit of on-the-job training) are desperate for work.
In the past few years, most media reports have parroted these employers’ claims uncritically; contrarian views were rare. That appears to be changing. McDougall’s article includes the following passage: 
Not everyone buys Microsoft’s claim that there is a shortage of American IT workers. Critics say the company simply wants to hire more foreign workers because they cost less.
“They probably have 6,000 jobs to fill because they are enamored of foreign labor,” said Les French, president of WashTech, a Seattle are tech worker advocacy group that is affiliated with Communications Workers of America. “I doubt they couldn’t fill the jobs from the available labor pool in the U.S.,” said French, in an e-mail to InformationWeek.

It’s good to see a critical perspective in the article (although we should note that for InformationWeek this is hardly a first). We’re eager to see whether this critical perspective will be reflected in the mainstream media.

[Editor’s Note: Next week, Science Careers will run a column by Beryl Benderly in which she reviews Peter Capelli’s little book, Why Good People Can’t Get Jobs: The Skills Gap and What Companies Can Do About It. Once it’s published–at around 2p.m. on Thursday, 4 October–you’ll be able to see it on our homepage.]