How to Tackle the IT Skill ShortageBy Pedro Pereira | Print
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Opinion: Cisco is trying to help its partners with worker shortages, but a more comprehensive approach is necessary.Cisco Systems told channel partners the week of April 2 that it would help them tackle one of their most vexing problemsfinding skilled IT workers. Among other initiatives, the vendor is considering creating a portal for sharing with partners the resumes of candidates for jobs at Cisco.
Meanwhile, a bill was being introduced in the U.S. Senate to require employers to make every effort to fill job vacancies with American workers before reaching beyond U.S. borders to find qualified candidates.
On the surface, there appears to be a disconnect between these two actions. If channel companies have so much trouble hiring skilled workers, why should the Senate need to consider a bill forcing employers to look harder?
The IT industry, with large software companies in the vanguard, regularly uses skills shortages to pressure the federal government to increase the number of temporary workers who come into the United States for high-tech jobs.
The allotment of so-called H-1B visas for 2008 is 65,000, a number far lower than the peak allotment of 195,000 in 2004. By the first afternoon of filing for visa applications, the government had received a record-breaking 150,000. In 2006 it took two months to exhaust the supply of visas allotted for 2007.
Unfortunately, misuse of the visas appears to be at play here. The bulk of the visas in 2006, according to a report by BusinessWeek, appear to have gone to Indian outsourcing companies. These companies are subverting the spirit of the program by sending their workers here for training and having them go back to do the jobs that American companies are outsourcing to India.
Outsourcing, immigration and temporary worker visas are controversial enough, and the addition of this element of H-1B abuse only makes matters worse.
The Senate bill, though understandable, smacks of scapegoatism. Of course companies should look for workers in the United States before reaching beyond our borders to fill vacancies. It is illegal to allot jobs for H-1B applicants while excluding U.S. candidatesa practice in which some employers have allegedly engagedand that fact should make the bill unnecessary.
Enforcing existing laws would make more sense than passing new ones. In any case, if channel and IT employers in general have so much trouble finding skilled workers, why should the Senate have to act?
Either the skills shortages are exaggerated, which is entirely within the realm of possibility, or the Senate bill and its supporters are full of it, which is also entirely possible.
The most likely answer is that both sides have a point. Yes, shortages exist, but they are likely not as acute as some would have you believe. Still, the issue of skill shortages is complex, involving myriad factors such as geography, compensation and the need for training.
Consider geography. A VAR in a rural town in the Great Plains is unlikely to attract as many qualified applications as a counterpart in a large metropolitan area. Conversely, a metro-area employer has to take into account a higher cost of living when offering a compensation package.
Cisco deserves kudos for taking steps to help its partners. But its solution is Cisco-specific and, as such, tackles only part of the problem. It is time for vendors and the channel to work together on skills shortages, to come up with a sound assessment of how acute the problem is and figure out how to solve it in a comprehensive way.
Pedro Pereira is editor of eWeek Strategic Partner and a contributing editor for The Channel Insider. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.