More informally known as the "Technology Czar" for the United States government, the Undersecretary of Commerce for Technology, Robert Cresanti, recently said that there are not enough engineers, Information Technology workers and students in these related fields to fulfill the needs of the U.S economy.
In the aftermath of the so-called "dot-com bust," the U.S. IT industry is facing a shortage of people after a time of "mass avoidance" of the industry. During the late 1980's and late 1990's, a massive rush by people to participate in the internet and computer technology fields led to a surplus of workers. When the job market crashed, many people found themselves out of work or in a situation where they had to accept lower level work than normal.
However, the IT industry in general is now seeing renewed demand, with skills shortages in some areas. Especially in the software development field, but also in related engineering and technology development and implementation positions, employers are claiming that it is getting harder and harder to find qualified, skilled workers.
The fear is that the U.S. as a nation will lose its competitive edge against the growing tech skills of Asia, especially China. Europe is beginning to compete strongly with nations such as Ireland, and parts of Eastern Europe and Russians as posing a threat to the traditional U.S. dominance in this area.
"The IT work force is not skilled enough and almost never can be skilled enough," Robert Cresanti said. "There are not enough engineers with the appropriate skill sets."
Cresanti added that U.S. colleges and universities are not enrolling enough engineering students, resulting in a shortage of information technology professionals in many specialties. Without students graduating, the shortage can only become worse.
In addition to boosting engineering enrollment, he urged opening the gates to more foreign workers, including H-1B holders. "Without H-1B visas, we would have economic dislocation," Cresanti said.
However, the third quarter economic analysis exhibits a sharp drop in IT worker confidence. In addition, the idea of increasing the quota of H-1B visas is controversial. A balance must be struck between allowing in enough foreign workers to fulfill real needs and shortages, yet they should not be used as a wage-suppression mechanism. There are also concerns over the potential abuse of foreign workers who are tied to the companies that sponsor H-1B visas for them.
In addressing the shortage of professionals in the next few years, speeding up the processing of student visas is also needed, Cresanti said. Many foreign students are unable to study in the United States because of the high visa refusal rate following concerns over terrorism. "It's not just India, but other countries like Russia and Israel," [that are affected] he said.
Having returned from a recent trip to China, Cresanti said he was "blown away" by the amount of investment in research facilities and schools. "Virtually every senior government official I met was an engineer," he said. "They are ramping up in the most profound way. Math and science are ingrained. We're a country of laws and men. They're a country of engineers."
One obstacle to technology trade with China-intellectual property-is always the No. 1 topic of discussion whenever federal trade officials meet with the Chinese, he said.
As far as future technologies are concerned, Cresanti said nanotechnology is the most important. Although he said health concerns about nanotechnology need to be addressed, "We cannot afford not to be leaders in nanotechnology. It's the way everything will be made," he said.
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