Where have all the tech workers gone? (Trick question)
We've been hearing it for so long that it's practically become an article of faith in the IT industry. There aren't enough skilled tech pros to get all of the things done that require skilled tech pros to do them. Certification groups, in particular, have been banging the drum about the widening "IT skills gap" for years now. It's good for business. Just in the past couple of weeks, both software titan Microsoft and IT industry association CompTIA (speaking through its TechAmerica arm) have (re)sounded the familiar warning. Phrases like "talent crisis" are calculated to get legislators and other decision makers up in arms. And not just in the United States. Groups in countries around the world have wrung their hands and wondered what to do.
Whether or not a truly dire shortfall may materialize in the future is one thing. A report in Bloomberg Businessweek at the end of November, however, gave voice to a less familiar refrain that's also been in some people's ear for a while. Researchers who have studied the problem say that there's no immediate need to panic. What's missing is not skilled IT pros — it's skilled IT pros who are willing to accept low wages. So while leading enterprises in the tech sector and elsewhere are casting a hopeful eye on the immigration reform debate in Congress and openly asking for changes that will open the floodgates to a tide of skilled guest workers, U.S. tech pros are on the sidelines.
The money quote from the Bloomberg piece is from Hal Salzman, a Rutgers University professor of planning and public policy who co-authored a paper published last year which found that real IT wages haven't grown much in the last 15 years. Salzman said that a tech worker shortage, in the conventional sense, simply doesn't exist. Employers, he said, may not be able to find skilled IT pros at the wages they'd prefer to offer. "I'm not sure that qualifies as a shortage," Salzman said, "any more than my not being able to find a half-priced TV."
All of this is not to say that it's a good idea to mothball your certification plans and throw up your hands. As with any problem of supply and demand, if key tech jobs go unfilled long enough, companies will eventually raise what they're offering to lure existing workers and spur growth in the marketplace. And tech workers whose skills are sharp and whose certs are current are likely to be some of the first ones hired. If you've been feeling dubious, however, about repeated portestations by top employers that there simply aren't enough skilled IT pros to go around, well, at least now you can enjoy the satisfaction of being justified in your convictions.