he U.S. has an engineering shortage, right? Well, not exactly, no.
While the titans of Silicon Valley are calling for immigration reform that will allow them to nab foreign computer gurus to fill open engineering jobs, one of their own has crunched the numbers and discovered that may not be necessary.
Bright.com, a California-based company that uses big data analysis to pair jobseekers with employers, released a report last month that showed that the supposed dearth of high-skilled engineers in the United States may be fiction after all. In fact, Bright's analysis reveals that for the top 10 jobs where H-1B visas are requested, only three do not currently have enough qualified American jobseekers to satisfy demand.
"The main conclusion that we need more foreign tech workers is not true," says David Hardtke, Bright's chief scientist. "We need to be more targeted in our use of this program."
To be sure, using data to argue about contentious policy issues should always prompt skepticism. It's too easy to focus on particular aspects of any data analysis to prove one's point and overlook those items that may raise more questions.
Bright took great care to avoid several pitfalls and make its data applicable on a large scale. It looked at H-1B applications and rewrote company's job descriptions to make them more generic (it is common for a company to write a job description so specific that only one temporary worker fits the qualifications). Using the company's proprietary Bright Score, which takes into account education and fit as well as proximity to the job, the data crunchers then compared the job descriptions with 1 million active U.S.-based jobseekers (out of a total pool of about 20 million) over 45 days
What they found was both troubling yet unsurprising. The most requested position when applying for an H-1B is computer systems analyst. Although Bright determined that this position has few qualified American candidates, it is also a lower-paying job compared to jobs like software engineer and requires only a two-year degree. The H-1B program is designed to recruit high-skilled workers.
For higher paying jobs, like computer programmer, software developer, and electronics engineer, Bright found more than one domestic job candidate for every H-1B application. And for financial analysts, the company found 12 local candidates for every visa application.
That evidence seems enough to get xenophobes up in arms, but these analyses are complicated. Ask tech companies in New York City or Silicon Valley if the pool of applicants for programmers is meeting their needs, and their first question will be, "Why? Please tell me you know someone who is looking for a job."
"You have to talk about two worlds: Silicon Valley and the rest of America," Hardtke says. "There is, indeed, a shortage of tech workers in the Bay Area.".