Saturday, September 29, 2012

Microsoft's Plan To Boost Skilled Workforce Shows Promise

On April 2, 2012, I wrote a blog article called IT's Lost Generation that discussed the talent drain that was going to be recognized over the next 10 to 12 years as 10,000 Baby Boomers retire each day. The recent news from Microsoft shows that the STEM crisis is hitting much earlier and it will deepen soon.

In my article I discussed what I thought attributed to the cause, "Generally speaking, this growing issue is becoming very apparent to most large companies. What has caused this problem? Here are some key contributors that have happened over the past 10 years - depleted staffing levels due to anemic budgets, outsourcing, off-shoring, and stagnate growth opportunities. The recent economic downturn has exasperated the issue. With an 8.3% unemployment rate there is a deep pool of 35 to 50 year old men and women seeking jobs. They are people that are willing to take significantly less money because they have been unemployed for a substantial amount of time. Moreover, it has caused immobility for the current IT staff. People are staying in their current jobs longer, not seeking other opportunities, and they are not being promoted up the ranks because of the extensive amount of layoffs over the past 3 years. In many large companies, the same people have staffed entry-level IT positions for 10 years; there isn't a healthy infusion of young talent entering IT."

In my follow-up article The Solution, I wrote that all businesses need to become more directly involved with education system to resolve this impending crisis, "Local businesses need to be involved with cultivating young adults in the soft-skills needed to be successful in a corporate environment. They should be talking to students in the classroom and provide internships. This isn't just philanthropy, companies need to do this for self-preservation of their IT programs.

Even with this outreach there are significant hurdles. Most colleges and high schools don't offer education on legacy systems. You aren't going to find a student that has been trained in CICS, Cobol, or other mainframe skills. 

The disaster that companies should be planning for isn't the destruction of their datacenters due to hurricanes, tornados, floods, or a meteor strike. The real disaster, that has significant consequences, is the talent drain staring us in the face and not many IT leaders have a good solution."

By Seattle Times Editorial

Microsoft’s proposal that Congress expand slots for high-skilled foreign workers while adding fees to such visas to boost investment in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education kills two birds with one stone.

First, it helps to solve a business-stifling shortage of such workers and provides a way to prepare more American children to take these jobs in the future.

The software giant has 6,000 job openings — more than half are in software development, research and related areas. Microsoft is not alone. The U.S. lags behind other countries in the percentage of STEM-educated graduates produced. A growing dependence on computer software and automation in many industries, including retail and health care, broadens the problem beyond high-tech companies.

To fill high-skilled jobs that go unfilled by American citizens, Microsoft proposes Congress increase the number of H-1B visa permits by 20,000. It also suggests Congress carve out 20,000 green cards from a backlog of half a million so STEM professionals could stay and work in this country. Visa permit fees and the costs associated with green card applications — both borne by businesses — would be raised from a couple of thousand dollars to $10,000 and $15,000 per foreign hire.

The estimated $500 million raised annually from the higher fees would fund a STEM-education effort modeled after the successful reforms inspired by the Race to the Top federal grant program.
Microsoft proposes spending the money in some key areas including more computer-science classes in high school. Currently, advanced-placement computer-science courses are in only a fraction of our high schools nationwide.

Other smart targets for the funds would be more STEM teachers and computer-technology learning in early grades, and more counselors to improve the current ratio of one college counselor to every 700 students.

The gap is widening between job openings that require STEM-related college degrees and job candidates with the requisite skills. A sense of urgency accompanies this dilemma since the U.S. is expected to add 120,000 computer-related jobs requiring bachelor’s degrees per year over the next decade. Unfortunately, our public universities and colleges produce only about 40,000 bachelor’s degrees annually.

Partisan divisions in Congress have blocked movement on immigration reform, but Microsoft offers an elegant solution to fill more jobs now while preparing more U.S. children for those jobs in the future.
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