iSeries pros say there's no shortage of skilled IT workers

Was Bill Gates correct when he said the U.S. has no skilled IT workers? Not according to many of the iSeries professionals who wrote the editors of Search400.com recently.

Was Bill Gates correct when he said the U.S. has no skilled IT workers? Not according to many of the iSeries professionals who wrote the editor's of Search400.com in response to a recent column. The problem with the IT labor force, they say, is a combination of issues -- poor college education, lack of training by employers, employees not wanting to be trained, and employers' unwillingness to pay adequate salaries.


Lack of employer-provided training the big issue
You're correct in saying that the issue is a combination of the three (poor college education, lack of training by employers, employees not wanting to be trained). I know of several developers who don't want to change. They either fear the PC development market and tools or feel that they have been in the business so long and know the 400/iSeries platform so well that they have no desire to change.

However, and what I feel is probably the biggest reason, is that companies are unwilling to provide the training to keep their employees skills up or for them to learn new technologies. The prevailing attitude seems to be one of "If you want to learn something new, do it on your own time and your own dime. If we need the new skill sets, we can either hire them straight out of college or outsource the work."

It's the classic thing of companies being penny-conscious and dollar-foolish. They look at the short-term expenses but not the long-term picture.

The problem with those strategies is that, in using those without experience, they get what they pay for. These college students do not know the business, and from my experience, are not schooled on proper testing and documentation processes. This results in buggy code that requires extensive QA time and debugging. While they may finish their initial programming quickly, with all of the corrections and time spent addressing QA issues, the end product usually ends up taking as long as if the companies had invested in their existing employees.

When hiring the consultants, you may get individuals with the business knowledge and skills needed to produce a quality product. However, again from my experience, the knowledge about the applications, how they were developed, and how to support them is rarely transferred from the consultant to the on-hand staff, thus ensuring that the consultant has a steady stream of income from support.

James Fuchs
Supervisor, Midrange Applications
VCPI


iSeries training provides adequate skills
Drawing generalizations about IT workers is ridiculous. I think Bill Gates is trying to justify his own means, once again. He knows his opinion will be heard and is using it to benefit himself.

I was trained on an iSeries in a business college with instructors who also worked in IT. The experience they brought from their workplace to the classroom was specific and effective.

Tammy Bond
IBM Certified Programming Specialist
mk & Associates


If there's a skilled worker shortage, then why aren't salaries rising?
I think you accurately identified the real problem -- there is not a shortage of skilled workers; there is a shortage of skilled workers willing and able to work for peanuts. If there were, in fact, a worker shortage, then salaries and rates in the IT industry would be increasing dramatically.

Bill Gates' proposal is just another recommendation that we increase corporate profitability by reducing labor costs. If we want to continue to lower our standard of living here in the U.S. while raising the standard of living in countries where there essentially is no middle class, then I suppose Gates' proposal is a good one.

John Michaels


IT workers requires continuous training
The main problem in IT is that your skills get outdated quickly, while in business, let's say, they don't. A business graduate will have no problem making the most of his experience, while sometimes a long experience in IT could be a handicap!

I think IT is an unfair line of work: You keep on learning, but you get nothing much in return.

Antoine Tawil


Companies don't want to pay workers' worth
I believe you hit it perfectly in this article. I have been it the IT environment since December of 1983. I started on the S/38. My salary was on a nice increase until January 2003. I have taken classes in e-commerce, Java, C, HTML, XML, SQL -- too many to count. Employers do NOT want to pay my worth. I even went into the contracting game for four years to see that arena dry up due to the influx of H1-B visas.

Wayne A. Pitman
EDI programmer
US Xpress


Companies need incentives to maintain domestic workers
As one of those who will soon be out of work, I consider myself very skilled at my position. My company is shutting down North American operations, and I am one of about 20 employees left who are shutting down operations and systems. Previously my company employed over 2,000 people in North America.

I've been searching for [a new job for] about two months now and have had very little response as of yet.

I'm not sure what Mr. Gates is "really" looking for, but for him to make such a generic statement is a bit ignorant. It seems like he may have an ulterior motive.

In my opinion, not only do we need to "not" allow more workers in, we need to focus on preventing the current flood of IT jobs that are being outsourced to foreign ground! If Mr. Gates wants Congress to do something, he should be pressuring them for changes that would give incentives to companies to maintain and develop domestic workers.

Gail Goetz
Information technology
AS/400 services manager
Oxford Automotive


IT worker shortage applies only to iSeries professionals
I liked your comments and I agree with you that the problem is not about a shortage of skilled labor but cheap skilled labor. But I think that is true only on the iSeries platform and not on Microsoft's .Net platform.

The number of .Net professionals in India is increasing a lot, but I don't think the same is true in the U.S. At my company, we have over 25 AS/400s with all the major systems running on the AS/400. The IT department has been trying hard to implement Microsoft-based solutions for the last three years, but it hasn't been successful. If they are successful, I will be out of job and I'll have to go back home (Bombay) or I'll have to leave my skills and learn the .Net skills, which I've been trying for a long time. They can find .Net professionals everywhere, but finding an AS/400 professional is like finding a white elephant.

I don't think back home in India anybody wants to learn iSeries skills because they won't get them a job. The population is huge, the education level is good and everybody needs a job. The real problem is sluggishness in acquiring new skills or skills that are hot. Money can be compromised, but not the skills.

Most of the iSeries professionals I know are working at management levels or busy implementing ERP packages, but hardly anybody does a good amount of coding. Most of us are maintaining or enhancing legacy applications, not developing anything new. Whatever new development takes place is always on the new technologies or has to be Web-based or something like that.

Riyaz Shaikh
System analyst
Abdul Latif Jameel
Jeddah, Saudi Arabia


Other countries not immune to outsourcing woes
This is not just happening in the U.S. New Zealand has similar issues. I believe the problems started when a large number of IT jobs were outsourced to low-wage economies. This had a double whammy effect of putting locals out of jobs and lessening the perceived value of local talent.

New Zealand employers have been lobbying the government to allow more skilled IT workers into the country. At the same time, they are reluctant to train local IT workers due to the cost. After all it is far cheaper to pay for airfare to New Zealand and two weeks' accommodation than it is to train someone in a new skill set.

Jeremy Hallinan


Outsourcing hype triggered more companies to participate, caused students to rethink careers in IT
There are numerous factors contributing to the conception that there aren't enough skilled IT workers in the labor pool. We can try to blame the schools or the workers, but I believe that the real problem was caused by the short-sighted employers.

Some companies, wanting to increase their profits, discovered that there were workers in other countries who would write software for less than what it would cost to hire US workers. So, not thinking or caring about the long term, companies started sending their programming tasks overseas. Of course, the media had to report this and made it a bigger issue than it was at the time. This brought more companies into the arena of offshore programming.

People going into college or technical training or counselors read the hype and decided to chose a different career path. The media made it sound like the IT jobs would be a thing of the past in the very near future. We can't blame the students. No one wants to spend thousands of dollars and two to four years of their life getting training in something that they believe will be useless in the job market.

Now, as many of us predicted when this hype was started, these companies are coming to the realization that designing software systems is not a simple task. There is a lot of thought, planning and implementation behind that little button that you simply click on and the world changes. I would have to speculate that a substantial portion of the software designs that were sent overseas came back as mediocre to poor software. That's not necessarily because the programming was poor but because the programmers did exactly what the design said to do. Increasing the bottom line may have had a short-term effect, but the long term is going to be rather expensive.

Dave Grant
Senior system analyst
Johnson Brothers Liquor Co.
St. Paul, Minn.


Educational institutions, government and industry need to work together
No, the U.S. has not run out of skilled IT workers. I thought it was pretty well established by now that large numbers of H1-B visas for skilled foreign IT workers were no longer needed. As your article cites, there are plenty of skilled but unemployed people around who might take offense at Bill Gates in this regard. There may be spot shortages, here and there, by unique skill sets or geography. If it is a matter of unique skill sets, then employers and colleges need to look at ways to boost training. If it's geography, then employers need to be more proactive in recruiting. If hospitals can bring in nurses from abroad to take care of patients, then perhaps employers can look outside their immediate area to recruit certain employees.

Long term, there may well be shortages in certain skill sets if the outsourcing trend continues. If more and more entry-level jobs as programmer/analysts get sent abroad, then how do people work their way up the ranks to become "journeyman" programmer/analysts and project leaders? Somehow, we need to get the word out that having IT staff close at hand is a valuable thing. When we work just down the hall from end users, we respond to their needs quickly and directly with very little lost in translation.

I think a good many of us would welcome more opportunities for continuing education. I came out of pretty good technical college program, and at last report they still had iSeries coursework. However, some of us want and need more now that we've been out in the trenches a while. To get training in WebSphere Developer's Studio Client (WDSC) and HATS, my employer had to bring in a consultant to train us. If I want to learn Java, my options are pretty limited. I can try to teach myself from a book or take an e-learning course. I'd probably learn best by taking an evening course, but nobody seems to be offering that around here.

Hopefully educational institutions, government and industry can find ways to work together and improve IT educational opportunities for both novice and experienced students.

Warren S. Schultz
Senior programmer analyst
American Foods Group
Green Bay, Wisc.


Highly skilled workers not paid enough
I think Mr. Gates has got his facts backwards. There is still a major shortage of IT positions in this country. I just completed my master's degree in computer science last year, and I have 10 years of industry experience to go with it. However, I seem to be stuck in a position that pays less than the national average for an entry-level person.

David Starkey


Gates' comments on target
Bill Gates is right. I'm a bit tired of the "Who do we blame for this calamity" mentality. Gates happens to be unusually smart, with all the hard-to-live-with qualities that can bring, but his heart of hearts is in the right place -- believe it or not.

America desperately needs millions of young capable, creative people to augment the aging baby boomers (I'm one of the latter) so we can avoid the economic recession/deflation Japan has been experiencing for the past 10 years. Imaginative people create opportunity for the highly skilled, but it takes a lot of them, and it takes the demand they add to our domestic markets to create the numbers of jobs that will reverse America's path to "has been" status.

America cannot long survive on war alone, as the extinction of the Roman, Mongolian, Spanish, British, Nazi and Soviet empires have repeatedly shown. We need to open our borders to anyone willing to work and lose the spoiled crybaby reaction to the fact that others want the opportunity we insufficiently appreciate.

Tobey Llop
IT worker

This was last published in May 2005

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