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By All Means, Take My Job

February 8, 2013

I’m a believer in what I call right-sourcing, which involves putting the right jobs around the globe where there are workers to support it.  In high-tech, this is starting to become the norm, mostly because there’s no choice.  If you need significant software resources, then China and India have to figure into the equation.  As a note, don’t try to find software people Malaysia, since most of the technology education there goes to hardware development.  Claiming you can staff 50 software engineers in Malaysia is just a losing plan, and makes the organization look foolish… not that I’d know anything about that.

Anyway, Reason Mag pointed me off to this NYT Op-Ed this morning, and I felt it worth comment:

The impetus for the bill, which would give six-year visas to as many as 300,000 foreign high-tech workers a year, is the longstanding lament by business leaders that they cannot find the talent they need in the American labor market. In their version, there is a shortage of scientists and engineers, and the United States is failing to keep substantial numbers of foreign students in the country. As a result, our position as the world’s leading high-tech economy is in danger.

But America’s technology leadership is not, in fact, endangered. According to the economist Richard B. Freeman, the United States, with just 5 percent of the world’s population, employs a third of its high-tech researchers, accounts for 40 percent of its research and development, and publishes over a third of its science and engineering articles. And a marked new crop of billion-dollar high-tech companies has sprung up in Silicon Valley recently, without the help of an expanded guest-worker program.

The arguments in the article, which is worth reading, generally center on the fact that H1-B visa holders are stuck working at the company that hired them, and that we have plenty of students (both domestic and foreign) graduating from our schools and getting jobs.  Well, there’s an implicit assumption that the universities here educate all the best students.  Here’s a hint, they don’t always do that.  There are plenty of companies who would really like a top student from the India Institute of Technology over a lesser college here (full disclosure, I went to a tier-two/three engineering college, and I’m doing fine), and they’re asking for the freedom to do that.  There are needed skills in certain jobs, and a competitive company will always argue to hire the best.

Which leads to the question: is this a good thing for American business?  Well, probably.  Personally, my experience is that the best education doesn’t always make for the most innovative employee, but I’ve seen exceptions both ways.  I’m as much a fan as spinning up a division in India, which works for big companies but doesn’t do much in terms of mid-size players.  I would hope that we do what’s best to keep US-based companies on the top, either through hiring help or the right tax breaks (oh, right… wrong administration for the latter), and that involves giving opportunity for foreign workers to spend time here (temporarily… H1-B’s have an expiration date).  Maybe we’ll have some foreign countries starting to look harder at our stellar kids, which will push US companies more on finding ways to attract the local talent.

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