SHRM Says Employers Demanding More Education, While Microsoft Says Solve STEM Shortage With H-1Bs

Oct 16, 2012

Declaring an impending crisis in the availability of technical workers with STEM skills, Microsoft announced a lobbying effort to get Congress to expand the visa program for highly skilled workers, while spending the money to improve education in science, technical, engineering, and math disciplines.

The company will push Congress to expand the H-1B visa program by 20,000, specifically for foreign workers with STEM skills and education. A similar number of green cards should be reallocated to these skilled workers.

Microsoft’s program was detailed by Brad Smith, the company’s  general counsel and executive vice president, in a blog post, and reiterated in a speech to the Brookings Institution and again in a press conference in Washington.

So dire has the lack of qualified, technical workers become in the U.S. that it is “approaching the dimensions of a genuine crisis.”

“The United States faces a growing economic challenge — a substantial and increasing shortage of individuals with the skills needed to fill the new jobs the private sector is creating,” Smith wrote in his blog post. “Throughout the nation and in a wide range of industries, there is an urgent demand for workers trained in the STEM fields — science, technology, engineering and mathematics — yet there are not enough people with the necessary skills to meet that demand.”

He said, “Like other companies across the information technology sector, we are creating new jobs in the U.S. faster than we can fill them. We now have more than 6,000 open jobs in the country, an increase of 15 percent over the last year. More than 3,400 of these jobs are for researchers, developers and engineers, and this total has grown by 34 percent over the past 12 months.”

As he was making his plea for Congressional action, the Society for Human Resource Management was readying a survey it conducted with the nonprofit education reform organization Achieve on changes in job requirements. The bottom line on the detailed report is, according to Jennifer Schramm, SHRM’s manager of workplace trends and forecasting: “Education requirements are climbing for jobs across the board.”

The responses of almost 4,700 HR professionals across nine industries shows that they expect education requirements will rise almost across the board; technical jobs will be the most demanding. While workers with only a high school diploma may still find a job, significant percentages of the responses said that won’t be enough.

For instance, “Future administrative and secretarial positions will require more education such as an associate’s degree (said 21 percent of HR professionals) or a post-secondary certificate (said 11 percent).”

Among the key findings:

  • Comparing 10 years ago to today, there are more jobs with specific technical requirements (said 51 percent); more STEM-related jobs (said 26 percent); increased employee diversity (said 45 percent); and simply a higher education level required for most jobs (said 46 percent);
  • Looking ahead three to five years, HR professionals expect even more jobs with specific technical requirements (said 60 percent); more STEM-related jobs (said 31 percent); increased employee diversity (said 50 percent); and simply a higher education level required for most jobs (said 49 percent); and
  • There are also fewer entry-level jobs today compared to 10 years ago (said 31 percent) and fewer expected in the next three to five years (said 30 percent).

Microsoft’s plan to remedy at least the shortage of tech workers calls for spending hundreds of millions to fund K-12 teacher training in the STEM disciplines, and to adopt and implement standards for each of the STEM disciplines. In addition, Microsoft wants to broaden access to computer science in the high schools, while at the college level add more classes and capacity to produce more graduates with a technical, science, engineering or math degree. And, finally, help students to finish school faster.

The millions to do this, Smith said in his comments and on Microsoft’s website, will come from higher fees charged employers for the expanded visas and green cards.

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