Look overseas to meet IT worker demand in U.S.

Government agencies trying to satisfy the increasing demand for highly skilled computer talent need only look at the United States' past globalization of its economy to find out how to meet the need for more workers.

The U.S. public demonstrates its acceptance and willingness to participate in a global economy when domestic resources do not meet its demands. The U.S. auto manufacturers' battle to recapture market share from their counterparts in Japan is a good example of Americans' willingness to look abroad and the response of an industry to develop its own resources.

Such globalization is precisely the route being taken to meet the demand for highly skilled information technology talent in private industry— a move that the federal government may be overlooking. Nearly 400,000 computer jobs will go unfilled due to the lack of talent available in the United States. A survey conducted last year by the Northern Virginia Technology Council and Virginia's Center for Innovative Technology found that more than 19,000 high-tech jobs are vacant in Northern Virginia and that IT companies will need another 112,000 high-tech jobs filled in the next five years.

With salaries in private industry higher than those in government, and with competition in private industry for the talents of IT workers so severe, seeking the expertise abroad is the next logical solution. The resource pool overseas, surprising to many in the United States, is primed and ready to be imported to the United States.

Eastern European information systems specialists have been highly trained by their prior governments, which placed emphasis and money on science and technology. These professionals are hungry to work at attractive wages while delivering an improved product through a high knowledge and skill base as well as their work ethic. Many of these workers have attained a superlative level of English communications skills. Their loyalty to employers reminds one of the "old-fashioned" American work ethic.

U.S. high-tech corporations, and possibly government agencies, cheer for the approval of the bill that will award 115,000 H1-B visas for skilled foreign workers over the next three years. However, these visas, which will be distributed among the hundreds of industries in the United States, are woefully short of meeting the worker demands in the technology sector alone.

Taking Jobs From Americans?

Some believe the H1-B visa will prompt needless competition for our best computer industry jobs. But in fact, the industry's human resources departments can't find the talent they need here. Most companies with the financial resources will readily admit that they comb the nation looking for talent, attending job fairs and posting jobs on World Wide Web sites.

Those who criticize the use of foreign workers overlook the fact that there are safeguards requiring U.S. employers to recruit in the United States and to offer jobs to U.S. workers who apply and are equally qualified for the jobs.

This opportunity to bring the world's most highly talented professionals to the U.S. IT industry can bring short- and long-term benefits. If the IT industry's and government's labor needs are not met, the U.S. edge in IT, as well as the country's economic growth, could be seriously impaired.

To "globalize" our work force and buy the best product abroad when we cannot find workers domestically is a welcome short-term solution. But it is a long-term challenge for the United States to aggressively encourage, create and develop its own resources to fill these needs, just as the automotive industry did in the past.

-- Fink is the president and founder of The Exc.IS Group, a New York City-based information systems consulting, employee placement, project management and software development firm specializing in providing skilled computer technology talent from Eastern European countries, Russia and within the United States.

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