How to save U.S. IT jobs

10 outsourcing experts offer their proposals for restoring America's IT labor force

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Multi-pronged approaches

"There's only so much the federal government can do to create or 'save' IT jobs. But if I had to suggest some options, I would say invest in improving the U.S. education system, especially in urban areas; provide incentives to expand broadband nationally so homesourcing can thrive in the hinterlands; focus on incentives to spur the growth of IT businesses; provide training on the application of a broad range of occupations, rather than just churning out more software developers or database administrators; expand immigration of foreign IT workers, which recognizes the importance of having the most skilled people to perform work; tax trial lawyer revenues to fund high-tech centers in low cost U.S. markets; and invest in efforts to improve network and data security. Or we can just annex Brazil or India or Vietnam so the U.S. can take credit for all the jobs being created there."

-- Stan Lepeak, managing director of research for outsourcing consultancy EquaTerra

"It's simple. Give a visa to anyone who starts a company that employs American workers; upgrade the skills of the U.S. workforce and teach them to start companies; open source university research so entrepreneurs can commercialize it; and direct tax breaks to small businesses and entrepreneurs -- after all, they are the ones who create the jobs."

-- Vivek Wadhwa, visiting scholar at the University of California, Berkeley

"To improve the American IT job market:

  • Institute "Buy American" provisions in government IT procurement. China makes no bones about their indigenous innovation programs that steer government projects to Chinese firms. This is smart policy that we should adopt.
  • Fix the H-1B and L-1 visa programs, which are riddled with loopholes, undercutting American workers' wages, and speeding up the offshoring of jobs. We need to mend, not end, these programs. Passing S.887 [The H-1B and L-1 Visa Reform Act of 2009] would address the problems.
  • Realign the interests of companies with workers. Major changes are needed in corporate governance to ensure that companies take a stakeholder, rather than a purely shareholder, approach to managing companies. CEOs are rational; they work towards incentives. So the government needs to adopt policies that ensure that the company's interest is aligned with the country's interests.
  • Invest in U.S. IT workers. Employers have cut back on their funding of continuing education at the same time that technological obsolescence cycles are shortening. The government needs to adopt policies that support not just K-16 education but K through "gray" education.
  • Improve labor market signals that will give workers, educators and students real-time views of what's in demand and what's not. For all the whining that employers do in Washington and in the press about the lack of skilled workers, you'd imagine someone would ask them for data. The government should track the offshoring of jobs, as well. Right now we're just guessing at which jobs are geographically sticky and which will be rendered obsolete by offshoring. The absence of data is inexcusable, especially from an administration that claims to care about offshoring.
  • Ensure that the downstream benefits of R&D investments are captured by U.S. workers. American workers need to move into occupations that can't be moved offshore, or they must provide more value than their overseas counterparts (in the case of IT, ten times more value than their Indian counterparts). To do that, you need access to better tools and technologies. The government subsidizes a huge amount of R&D, and the purpose is not just to create R&D jobs. The hope is that downstream design, development and production jobs will stay in the U.S. But given the global nature of these firms, my guess is that much of that downstream benefit is going offshore."

-- Dr. Ron Hira, associate professor of public policy at the Rochester Institute of Technology

This story, "How to save U.S. IT jobs" was originally published by CIO.

Copyright © 2010 IDG Communications, Inc.

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