Dr. Norm Matloff On H1B And Age Discrimination
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September 08, 2011, 03:05 PM
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Dr. Norm Matloff writes to his email list

The enclosed transcript from the Nightly Business Report appears to be the typical industry lobbyist plant—excerpt for one unusually frank remark, by the CEO of SeaMicro:  "We`re going for younger engineers..."

As I`ve said so often, age is the core of the H-1B issue, and once in a while industry people blurt out the truth.  The above remark is one instance, and there was one from Microsoft a couple of years ago; see here.

Computerworld recently ran a set of articles on age discrimination in the tech field.  You can read the material at Age bias in IT: The reality behind the rumors, By Tam Harbert, September 1, 2011

There are even tips as to how to sue for age discrimination in the tech area.  (In the interest of full disclosure, I should mention that I am serving as an expert witness in the Google case mentioned there.)

Unfortunately, the CW articles are not entirely accurate, in the sense that they for the most part convey the impression that age discrimination concerns people over 50.  As I`ve mentioned often, it actually starts as young as age 35.  I`ve noticed over the years that that age is the rough point at which employers really turn to hiring H-1Bs (and/or younger Americans), and interestingly, the GAO report earlier this year confirmed this 35 figure with a dramatic graph; see here.

And as usual, the CW articles largely portray the problem of a lack of up-to-date skills among the older workers.  I`ve shown in detail before that this is a red herring:  The older workers who do have the new skills are still often shunned by employers, and any programmer worth his salt can pick up new skills on the job, without formal training, and be productive in a few weeks.

I will not repeat the statistical analyses here, but I will remind readers of my favorite sound bite, taken from the industry lobbyists` own report (see the details in the Microsoft analysis above, though the firm involved was not MS):

The employer agreed that she could allow her present older programmers to learn up-to-date skills, but then they`d be worth more and would leave her firm!  In other words, skills were not the issue after all; instead, the issue was money, and the solution is to hire cheaper H-1Bs. One of the CW articles highlights a programmer who experienced this.

The CW articles` emphasis on COBOL badly misses the mark.  Of all the programmers who subscribe to this e-newsletter, I only know of one who specializes in that language.  And as to newer languages such as Python, see my critique here.

Many of you will probably recall that I`ve expressed frustration that my message on H-1B being at its core a vehicle for deliberate age discrimination seems to get lost even among those who are big critics of H-1B.  There`s no better example of that than the person who pointed me this morning to that Nightly Business Report broadcast I`ve referred to here in this posting.  I thanked him for the tip, especially because of the broadcast`s rare admission that the Silicon Valley "labor shortage" is, if it exists at all, a shortage of YOUNG people.  My reader replied that he was so upset about the obvious PR masquerading as news in the broadcast that he hadn`t even noticed the blatant reference to age.


/#NBR Transcripts

Silicon Valley is Hiring

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

TOM HUDSON: Unemployment certainly remains a top concern across the country, but in one part of the U.S., employers say they cannot find enough skilled workers to fill their job openings. Our Silicon Valley reporter, Robin McElhatton, explains.

ROBIN MCELHATTON, NIGHTLY BUSINESS REPORT CORRESPONDENT: There are more workers on Silicon Valley roads looking for jobs than in many other parts of the country. The valley`s unemployment rate is considerably higher than the national number. In San Jose, almost 10.5 percent of the workforce is without a job, but there are signs that hiring is picking up. High tech companies, especially Google (NASDAQ: GOOG), Facebook and eBay (NASDAQ: EBAY), have hundreds of job openings. Yet some say they can`t find enough skilled workers.

DION LIM, PRES & CEO, SIMPLYHIRED.COM: There`s definitely a talent war going on in Silicon Valley today. MCELHATTON: Dion Lim owns, one of the nation`s largest job search engines. He says engineers and programmers are in short supply and high demand. That`s because not enough American students are interested in math and science and U.S. immigration policy caps the number of foreign workers.

LIM: (INAUDIBLE) right now there are about 40, 50,000 engineers, computer software engineers and programmers. has 16,000 job listings for those positions. So for every three engineers who are employed, we have one open position. For the last two years, we`ve seen about a 44 percent growth in engineering jobs.

MCELHATTON: The skyrocketing demand for programmers and engineers is driven by new technology. Social media, tablets, smart phones and cloud computer. Silicon Valley startup Seamicro makes servers for cloud computing. CEO Andrew Feldman says his staff looks everywhere for top talent.

ANDREW FELDMAN, CEO, SEAMICRO: We`re recruiting not just in the U.S., but we`re recruiting abroad, as well at top universities. We`re going out of the state of California, which was something I haven`t seen startups do traditionally. We`re going for younger engineers, so we`re recruiting a lot out of the master`s program, a lot out of the Ph.D. program.

MCELHATTON: The shortage of engineers and programmers is more acute now, but it`s been a problem in Silicon Valley for a long time. Russell Hancock, CEO of Joint Venture Silicon Valley Network thinks there are three key solutions to the problem, including raising the cap on H1b visas which allow immigrants to work in the U.S.

RUSSELL HANCOCK, PRES & CEO, JOINT VENTURE SILICON VALLEY NETWORK: We need immigrants to come in Silicon Valley. We always have. That`s been our secret sauce. Number two, our own kids, we need to get them more interested in these technical careers and number three, we need to invest in education. Right now we`re dis-investing in our educational institutions. That`s a formula for disaster.

MCELHATTON: Dion Lim believes that solving the skilled worker shortage could be a formula for success nationwide.

LIM: I think if you had enough engineers, the rate of development of products that would enable other companies throughout the whole United States to operate more efficiently, those things would be rolled out more quickly and they`d generate jobs faster.

MCELHATTON: Solutions to finding enough skilled workers may take years to materialize, but for now, engineers and programmers are in the driver`s seat in the Silicon Valley job market. Robin McElatton,