Skills Shortage in Engineering?

  • December 6, 2010
  • Scott

Vivek Wadhwa writes that there is no simple answer to the question of whether there is a shortage or a glut of engineers:

So there are many issues here. But the national debates about competitiveness, immigration, and education, typically focus on the issue of supply and demand of engineers and scientists. They paint this issue in black or white when it is shades of gray.

And he makes a few additional points supporting the notion that educational institutions don’t always teach the specific skills companies want, and that our corporations aren’t investing in teaching the skills they want to their employees either.  The combination of these two effects leaves many companies feeling as if there is a shortage in general, when it may really be specific areas of shortage instead.

Of course, a shortage of people with the right skills has been a real problem in the BPM space – so this is nothing new to us.  And we think the primary answer is to invest in the people you hire to keep them up-to-date with the skills you need, while augmenting with help from outside your organization (leverage).

However, there was one point where perhaps the cause-and-effect were mis-stated:

The world’s best and brightest aren’t beating a path to the U.S. any more. In previous years, H-1B visas for foreign nationals were in such high demand that they had to be awarded by lottery. This year, the annual quota of 65,000 hasn’t even been used yet. Instead, these workers are staying home and entrepreneurship is booming in countries like India and China.

I don’t believe the lower number of H-1B visas has anything to do with the demand from foreign nationals to live and work in the United States.  The issue is that you can’t get an H-1B visa without a corporate sponsor.  Many companies have pulled back on hiring H-1B’s – partly because of the economy or their own circumstances, partly because of moderating labor costs for US nationals, partly because of public (and internal) backlash against abuses of the visas (mostly other than H1B), and partly because many of the multi-nationals have offices in various countries around the world – and may prefer to hire these same people for lower wages in their home countries.  I think the Startup Visa movement was one great way to help keep talented H-1B visa holders in the United States, and I think it illustrates that the problem is one of process, rather than demand imbalance.

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