Obama Administration Makes Unverifiable Claim of 545,000 IT Job Openings; H-1B Visa Boosting Likely Culprit

by Yves Smith, published March 11, 2015

Although the plural of anecdote is not data, we’ve found Slashdot over the years to provide reliable early warnings of what were to become pervasive practices in the US employment market. For instance, for well over a decade, Slashdot has regularly featured reader-submitted articles along the lines of “I’m a new graduate in IT and can’t find an entry-level job.”

The oldsters would explain how yes, none of the large and hardly any mid-sized companies were willing to train people. They’d send the yeoman work that used to be how young professionals learned their trade offshore. Of course, that meant that the US was choosing to give up its leadership position in computer science by refusing to develop the next generation of professionals, but no one seemed to care much about that. The seasoned types would explain to the stranded aspirant how to cobble together assignments to try to develop a decent skill set.

That pattern has been replicated in other professions, in particular law and accounting. So how will we have a service industry in 15 years with no experienced service professionals? The only consolation is that some of those people over 65 who need for financial reasons to keep working may have higher odds than they ought to, if they are in one of these hollowed-out fields, of continuing to find work.

With this background, we have in the same day, hat tip bob, two stories on Slashdot that say a great deal about the reality of the labor market versus the official hype. It’s noteworthy that the comments, which are typically fractious at Slashdot, line up almost uniformly on the “employers are looking for insanely specific and often unrealistic experience.” And why might that be? In the case of tech in particular, to justify bringing in more H-1B visa candidates.

I suggest you read both threads in full. I’m featuring some representative comments below.

Here’s the first post Do Tech Companies Ask For Way Too Much From Job Candidates?:

The short answer: Yes. Many employers’ “required” skill sets seem to include everything but the ability to teleport and build a Shaker barn; the lengthy requisites of skills and experience seem achievable only by candidates who’ve spent the past four decades using a hundred different programming languages and platforms to excel at fifty different, complicated jobs. Why do a lot of tech companies do that? Dice asked around and discovered a bunch of different reasons. Companies want to make investments in talent, but the inherent costs of that talent also make them wary of hiring anyone but the absolute best. The need to find the right talent, and the concern over cost, often leads to employers producing job descriptions too broad for the actual position. There’s also pure idiocy: PHBs don’t know what they want, don’t understand the technology, and throw just anything into the description that pops to mind. Is there any way to stop this scourge?

Some readers pointed out if you were going through HR, you were already doomed, since for the better jobs, HR served only to do housekeeping (like run those background checks before the offer was actually made). But there’s more to it…see this comment and then the replies:

They want everything, but when someone who has everything applies, they don’t want to up the ante with high pay.

This. I was speaking the owner of a company last week. He loved my capabilities and experience, kept going on about the pivotal role I could play in his company and then said to my face that he was not going to pay market rates (but not in those words) – and no, he didn’t mean he’d pay above market rates, he wanted to pay about 15% to 20% below market rates, and he was not offering anything in return of that.

You show the point. They don’t want to pay. They want someone who is gullible. And that reduces to someone who is as young and inexperienced as possible with the minimum required knowledge. The long list is for lowering the applicant self esteem and make her/him believe that she/he hit the jackpot if hired.

Slashdot’s community also pointed out that Dice failed to mention the elephant in the room, namely, the role of the H-1B visa process in these unrealistic job specs. That came even more strongly in focus in the second piece, Obama Administration Claims There Are 545,000 IT Job Openings. The post proper:

The White House has established a $100 million program that endorses fast-track, boot camp IT training efforts and other four-year degree alternatives. But this plan is drawing criticism because of the underlying message it sends in the H-1B battle. The federal program, called TechHire, will get its money from H-1B visa fees, and the major users of this visa are IT services firms that outsource jobs. Another source of controversy will be the White House’s assertion that there are 545,000 unfilled IT jobs. It has not explained how it arrived at this number, but the estimate will likely be used as a talking point by lawmakers seeking to raise the H-1B cap.

And the comments were pithy:

My experience is the people looking for tech jobs now either:

A. Want more money than they are worth (no offense)
B. Are skilled in an area that is saturated (Windows admins)
C. Expect the world to be like the Google Campus (Hipsters)
D. Frankly, aren’t worth hiring.

My experience is that the companies hiring tech workers now either:

A. Want to pay less than people are worth (and therefore want to hire easily exploited foreign workers)
B. Want specific experience with technology that hasn’t existed long enough to create it
C. Want to provide crappy working environments with clueless management
D. Frankly, won’t be in business very long because they can’t adapt.

B. Want specific experience with technology that hasn’t existed long enough to create it

THIS!!

I cant tell you how many job postings I read that said things like you need 5 years experience with X,Y, and Z…. only problem is Y and Z have only been out for 2 years and 4 years respectively.

Some of that is cluelessness in HR departments. (I recall a time where the jobs adds were filled with posts for entry level sysadmins, which demanded enough years of Unix experience that only Ken Thompson, Dennis Ritchie, M. D. McIlroy, and J. F. Ossanna MIGHT qualify. B-) )

But some of it is part of the “hire a cheap H-1B” game. By making the requirements impossible (or rejecting all but a handfull of people who already receive astronomical fees on the consulting market), they can claim that “There are no available US citizens quaified for the post.” Then they hire an H-1B.

Of course the H1B doesn’t have the qualifications, either. But his resume is inflated (typically by his recruiting firm, without his knowledge or approval).

The employer knows the game, and isn’t expecting the claimed skills to be present – just enough skill to do the actual job. But a citizen who similarly inflated his resume would be in serious trouble as a result.

The boss gets his cheap laborer, the H-1B gets his job and visa, the recruiter gets his fee. Everybody is happy except the rejected US candidates.

So who checks for fraud? The boss is happy. The rejected candidates are in no position to investigate or initiate a claim. The government is not interested. (The boss’ company is a big political contributor.) Nobody else has standing.

So now you know how it’s done. And the Administration is completely on board. As another member of the Slashdot community remarked,

2017 cannot come fast enough. The current administration in the white house does not even know what party it represents, what it stands for.

Actually, it does, but it’s now becoming clear to anyone who is paying attention that the Democrats are running on brand fumes. Yet the party is still acting if it can pull another fast one off on the electorate after being shellacked in the midterms. Good luck with that.