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So Apparently We Don't Have A STEM Shortage? Tell Me More

As millions of students prepare this summer to begin their university studies, they're being pressed to choose STEM fields, if only to keep America in the lead among its global rivals.
So Apparently We Don't Have A STEM Shortage? Tell Me More

If you're a longtime reader, you know I've been saying this for years. The alleged STEM jobs shortage is merely a plan to suppress wages. Michael Hiltzik of the L.A. Times has the details:

Alice Tornquist, a Washington lobbyist for the high-tech firm Qualcomm, took the stage at a recent Qualcomm-underwritten conference to remind her audience that companies like hers face a dire shortage of university graduates in engineering. The urgent remedy she advocated was to raise the cap on visas for foreign-born engineers.

"Although our industry and other high-tech industries have grown exponentially," Tornquist said, "our immigration system has failed to keep pace." The nation's outdated limits and "convoluted green-card process," she said, had left firms like hers "hampered in hiring the talent that they need."

What Tornquist didn't mention was that Qualcomm may then have had more engineers than it needed: Only a few weeks after her June 2 talk, the San Diego company announced that it would cut its workforce, of whom two-thirds are engineers, by 15%, or nearly 5,000 people.

The mismatch between Qualcomm's plea to import more high-tech workers and its efforts to downsize its existing payroll hints at the phoniness of the high-tech sector's persistent claim of a "shortage" of U.S. graduates in the "STEM" disciplines — science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

As millions of students prepare this summer to begin their university studies, they're being pressed to choose STEM fields, if only to keep America in the lead among its global rivals. "In the race for the future, America is in danger of falling behind," President Obama stated in 2010. He labeled the crisis "our generation's Sputnik moment."

The high-tech industry contends that U.S. universities simply aren't producing enough graduates to meet demand, leading to a "skills gap" that must be filled from overseas if the U.S. is to maintain its global dominance. Low unemployment rates among computer workers imply that "demand has outpaced supply,"Jonathan Rothwell of the Brookings Institution told me by email. "Companies struggle to fill job vacancies for skilled programmers and other STEM fields."


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Yet many studies suggest that the STEM shortage is a myth. In computer science and engineering, says Hal Salzman, an expert on technology education at Rutgers, "the supply of graduates is substantially larger than the demand for them in industry." Qualcomm is not the only high-tech company to be aggressively downsizing. The computer industry, led by Hewlett-Packard and Microsoft, cut nearly 60,000 jobs last year, according to the outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas. The electronics industry pared an additional 20,000 positions.

Nevertheless, high-tech employers such as Qualcomm, Google, Microsoft and Facebook lobby hard for more latitude in employing workers on H-1B visas. These are designed to serve high-skilled immigrants but often enable the importing of Indian and Chinese guest workers to replace an older, more experienced, but more expensive domestic workforce. Visa issuance is capped at 85,000 per year, including foreign holders of U.S. advanced degrees, but a bill sponsored by Sen. Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah) would raise the limit to as many as 195,000.

"If you can make the case that our security and prosperity is under threat, it's an easy sell in Congress and the media," says Michael Teitelbaum, a demographer at Harvard Law School and author of the 2014 book "Falling Behind? Boom, Bust, and the Global Race for Scientific Talent," which challenges claims of a STEM shortage in the U.S.

Despite its "cost-cutting initiative," a company spokesperson says, Qualcomm "continues to have open positions in specific areas, and still faces a "'skills deficit' in all areas of today's workforce, especially engineering."

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