More high-tech workers needed overseas is one place to find them


MICHIGAN SEN. Spencer Abraham proposed last week a sharp increase in the number of visas issued to highly skilled workers to help fill the shortage of computer analysts and programmers in the country.

Now, there are available roughly 65,000 H-1B visas, which allow highly skilled workers to remain in the United States for up to six years. They are expected to run out by May.

Under Abraham's plan, an additional 25,000 of the highly sought visas would be issued.

But critics suggest that computer firms might use the introduction of foreign recruits to hold down salaries. And, while the proposal includes a $50 million increase in science scholarship funding, they feel that more effort should be put into improving science programs and job training programs, than into attracting foreign workers.

Would opening up the country to more high-tech workers provide the support computer firms need? Or is domestic education the only way to go?

Neal Fisher

President, PPS Information Systems Staffing in Towson

My opinion is that they should train more people locally than import more workers. Importing more workers is only a short-term solution to a long-term problem.

Since 1990-1991, when everybody had been laid off, there were very few jobs and lots of qualified people, so the pendulum was there. The recession hit everybody across the board and very much affected the white collar computer worker.

But now, the pendulum has swung back the other way: lots of jobs but not lots of qualified people. The economy is much better, and automation is on the rise.

Colleges need to open up their technology departments more, in a big way. And those that aren't technically oriented need to show that technology is also a viable need. There're not enough space and labs. It's expensive, but what else are you going to do?

Schools also need to bring about faster learning curves by creating partnerships with businesses to expose these people to the real world.

In Baltimore, I see legislative and educational groups striving toward addressing the issue, but I don't know if anything's been implemented. I also know, though, that it's not going unnoticed and it's being addressed in the best light it can.

Dyan Brasington

President, High Technology Council of Maryland Inc. in Rockville

I think I support Senator Abraham's proposal to some degree, because we need so many people so quickly, that whatever it takes to get those kinds of specific workers into the high-tech industry, we want to support it.

Foreign workers will not affect salaries. They can come into the marketplace and get paid the same. The jobs are there, we just don't have enough people to fill them.

We don't want to take away from training, but in fields that require more long-term training, like engineering, we need to encourage foreign recruits. You can't take a course and become an engineer in six months.

We're hoping to see an increase in short-term training, but haven't seen one that has taken shape. You have a lot of displaced workers from the federal government and military personnel with very good backgrounds who, with short-term training, can join technology fields.

In Maryland, there are 20,000 jobs available in three core areas: software developers, systems integrators and Internet enterprises. But, while the shortage is primarily in information technology, it is really applicable to almost any industry: from manufacturing and retailing, to banking and biotechnology -- all industries depend on information technology.

David Wagner

Economist, Regional Economic Studies Institute at Towson University

I don't know if this is a long-term solution to the problem. Obviously, we need to invest more in educating college students in the high-tech field. But it is also not a bad thing and will help Maryland, which has a high concentration of high-tech workers. By alleviating the shortage of workers, it would help the firms' growth and encourage more high-tech growth in Maryland.

I don't think you'll see much effect on salaries. They're looking to increase the number of visas by 25,000, but a recent study showed that there are 20,000 job openings for computer science majors in Northern Virginia alone. People interviewing in Silicon Valley are demanding six figures. The growth in the high-tech industry is strong enough to support more salaries.

There are studies showing that, as the number of computer science majors has declined, Maryland has begun programs, one through the community college system, headed by the Baltimore City Community college system, in which each college specializes in a specific technological industry. Gov. [Parris N.] Glendening has also mentioned expanding money to the program. I haven't seen enrollment numbers, but eventually it will have a positive effect on the supply.

Pub Date: 3/08/98

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