When last we met, I had decided, with dubious wisdom, to dive into the question “is there a hiring gap in IT.” In short, is it true that the wails that we can’t find anyone” are accurate when it comes to hiring in IT? Sort of vital for we geeks who work there or are “IT adjacent.”
What I found was:
- Considering the amount of graduates we turned out with IT related degrees, and the fact that not everyone who went into IT (at least a decade ago) had IT related degrees, there was no reason to assume we weren’t graduating enough people. We literally graduated enough people in the US with CS or related degrees to fill all or most created positions.
- If IT job creation paces STEM job creation, we might be minting more jobs for senior people than entry level jobs, which suggests a possible imbalance.
- Pay trends didn’t suggest market pressure that would indicate #2.
- Recent employment trends could indicate a recent gap, as unemployment’s decline in 2014 could point to being at “full employment” in IT. But any gap is relatively new thing
So there might be a gap – but a recent one as far as I could tell. So I began wondering what else beyond lack of numbers could be out there to create a real – or perceived – lack of qualified senior IT people.
Now as I noted part of my goal here is not just research but to show what I did to inspire (or warn) people. So what did I do?
Simple, I began brainstorming what could be causing it based on what I’d heard, experienced, or seen others say. This, as they say, is where it gets interesting.
Because those numbers I had? They don’t tell the full story at all.
First up, bias against gender in tech – especially Silicon Valley – is a big story. In fact it appears to be all over in STEM professions, which from what I can gather is also taken to be representative of IT (little tip there, I see that a lot – more later).
The Center for Talent and Innovation did a fascinating study that looked into women in STEM and how they felt. In the US:
- 27% of Women felt stalled.
- 32% were likely to quit in a year (which as I understand it is about 45% higher than men, but I had trouble verifying that number.)
- Their ideas are less likely to be implemented and green-lighted.
Also, a few more things came up.
So if 25% of your professionals are considering quitting within the year at a rate of 32%, and you’ve already got a problem just in this one sector. Especially if they’re, say, senior people which we supposedly need.
Finally in a study looking into bias of STEM hiring (which as you may guess I’m just using as a stand-in for IT), found that people have gender bias towards people doing math tasks. The bias, by the way, was that women were less than half likely to get the “job” (in this case a task) if only the gender was known. This could be mitigated, but didn’t go away.
This was extrapolated into assuming it says something about STEM – a little bit of a leap I must say – but it’s worth noting.
So let’s lay this one on the line here, courtesy of USA Today (Motto: Still here). In Silicon Valley:
- 2% o technology workers are black. 4.5% of all new CS/CE graduates from high-level universities are black, and 9% of CS/CE graduates are Black. Blacks are 12% of the US workforce.
- 3% of technology workers are Hispanic. 6.5% of new CS/CE graduates from high-level universities are Hispanic,and 9% of CS/CE graduates are Hispanic. Hispanics are 16% of the US workforce
However, as I noted last column we’re also churning out a hell of a lot of people with IT degrees, more than we need – so this might figure into some of these numbers, even though these numbers were on people form high-level universities. Still for overall graduation rates versus employment, these are exceptionally low numbers.
So roughly the amount of black and Hispanic employees is half that of their graduation rate for high-level universities, and less than 1/4 to 1/3 for overall graduates, respectively. That’s pretty low. Considering the amount of people with CS degrees we churn out, and those who don’t have CS degrees I might expect, 50%, but this is lower than that.
(Also this brings in an entire other issue with the fact that theres less representation of black and Hispanic Americans in IT graduation period)
Sigh. This is a weird area for me. As a Program Manager age is almost an advantage as long as you work the system and keep educating yourself, and keep career direction. It starts being a problem in some management career paths in the mid-50s.
I also encounter people who make wildely varied claims on age bias in technology. Experiences seem to differ radically. But what effect does Age bias have on IT hiring?
Fortunately a ComputerWorld article covered it for me:
* Older IT workers do have longer periods of unemployment than younger workers and older workers in other professions.
* IT workers who are older do express more anxiety – something I’e seen personally, as a 40 year old who runs with both 30 year old and 50 year olds. The 50 year olds are a lot more anxious.
* This isn’t everywhere as it’s less of a factor for specialists, System Architects, Project Managers, or just general management. However the article suggests those staying in coding as one age may provide challenges.
So there seems to be some effects of bias towards older workers. Now if that seems a bit weird considering part of my past thesis was there were more senior jobs than entry level, then yes, that is weird. But if age bias is affecting the talent pool and there’s more senior jobs being reated than entry level, then you do have a problem. Another one.
You’re not making enough senior people and you’re biased against hiring older people sounds like trouble. I’m starting to smell a lot of stupid here.
One thing I hear in Silicon Valley is “how much it costs to live here” and rumblings that it might affect relocation of people. That got me thinking about how location might affect jobs.
Forbes did a look at the cities creating the most information technology jobs, which gave me a lot of great information.
The takeaways here that the big areas creating jobs (at least in 2014) are pretty obvious: Silicon Valley, San Francisco, Boston area, Austin area are the top four. However there are a few surprising spots – and jobs seem to be dispersing.
This makes me think about a few possibilities:
- There’s still growth in expensive areas, which may mean people may not want to move there. I hear that occasionally being a Silicon Valley inhabitant – and certainly its a hard place for a person to start a career.
- There’s also growth in wide-flung areas, making moving choices harder and providing unexpected competition on the other.
Despite complaints about living here from people I’ve met, despite the idea jobs may be scattering and impacting careers, I wasn’t able to dig up much else here, so I’m going to put this as more “interesting” It might be something worthy of deeper research in the future.
So as noted last time pay increases didn’t follow patterns that would indicate a lack. But I’ve occasionally hear people complain that offers weren’t good enough or that they couldn’t hire people as their pay rates were constrained.
Michael O Church, ever willing to get in the face of IT, has an entire article on bad IT hiring practices being, to put it mildly, like those of really bad poker players. The condensation of his thesis is that hiring managers try to win individual cases (like pots in poker) by paying as little as they can for the most – but in the long term they loose as they miss big wins.
Think of it this way – if a hiring manager is used to trying to get the most talent for the cheapest, thats all they do. But it doesn’t mean they’re hiring the right people, helping their reputation, or even getting the right people. He goes into far more detail here, so I’d read the article.
This however led me to this little look at what’s up in IT salaries. I found this little gem that notes things are a bit more complex than we may think:
- The gentleman here has experienced hiring problems. He thinks there’s a gap
- He notes that simple supply/demand doesn’t apply. There’s everything from places like the big IT companies here salaries are going up, to startups that are scrappy and offering much lower wages.
- In some areas, thus the ability to raise wages isn’t there
This helped put a lot more into perspective – I was thinking too simplistically. With diverse IT companies, diverse location (as noted earlier), and various drivers to go to different companies, it’s really hard to expect a simple uniform pay increase due to demand – if the pay can even go up for some companies.
Try imagining diverse pay rates (cash or equity in the future),d iverse incentives (startup or big company), and now apply that to a possible hiring gap. Consider that senior people are probably more likely to look for something stable, and they might be avoiding entire sectors. I’ve experienced that myself.
Still, more to find. So I dived in a bit deeper on pressures that’d tell me more on the market.
Over at the Columbus Dispatch, Robert Samuelson notes that it looks like people don’t want to change jobs for obvious reasons. Not surprising in a tough economy, but consider this Forbes article that notes that people who stay at a job longer than two years get less raises than those who move. There’s two conflicting pressures right there – better raises if you leave but you’re afraid to do so.
However, the article from Forbes notes more than that:
- The recession has made low wage pressure the norm. Shades of the Church article.
- Companies aren’t good at providing people promotional incentives.
Among people I know in Silicon Valley, certainly not representative, I’ve seen two trends that lead to higher pay rate – aggressive pursuit of personal growth and working a system in a company, or the latter and being willing or forced to leap. Combined with complaints I hear about inappropriate pay, I’m starting to think there’s something here
So what I can sort out here from my admittedly half-assed research, is that the idea that pay rates in IT are going to follow simple supply and demand is niave. OK, yes, I’m calling my last article naive in this regard, but hey part of this is exploration.
Now when we back up and take a look at the factors mentioned, I think we can see an issue.
- Wages have been stagnant in general, but also vary widely in IT.
- People are rewarded for leaping jobs, but also fear doing so, likely creating further confused market pressure (splitting it further among the “safe” and “adventurous” employees). This may also limit talent pool availability simply as some people won’t take a chance.
- Church’s theory of “bad poker playing” would fit these scenarios – wages kept low poorly and promotional practices that encourage he worst behavior and maximum frustration – and when people leave due to your bad “poker playing” it’s harder to replace them since you’ll be offering lousy pay.
- Those that can make the best offers can get people – but there’s probably a limited amount of folks they’re demanding (and not everyone will take the chance).
So I’m prepared to say: It’s clear that IT wages don’t follow simple supply-and-demand and we can’t rely on wages to tell us if there’s an IT gap based on that model. There are also clearly issues of pay and willingness to leave companies that may not create a gap per se – but do make people far less willing to be mobile and more demanding so that it’s a lot harder to hire people. They may be there, but they don’t take chances or want your lousy pay rate.
But what about guest workers in all of this/ Certainly H1B Visas are issues that have come up again and again in the area of IT?
Fortunately, I found this article on Hal Salzman, who’s also written for our past friends, the EPI. His paper here calls out quite a few factors – including ones I wish I’d seen before. Once again, it’s on STEM, but that includes IT (in fact, the author notes it’s 59% of STEM so hey, we have an idea that’s pretty representative of IT).
- He notes that the amount of people needing/using a computer degree is low as I noted (He provides more up to date numbers). He also notes that indeed we produce enough graduates. So yes, I’m feeling kind of good with my past conclusions.
- Guestworker Visas have increased over time.
- We see some leveling of IT payment in time, Figure I.
- In short, guestworkers provide a pressure on salaries (down) as the wages are good comparatively. However the workers frankly aren’t needed (at least on the entry level).
This further tells me that the previous statement on wages is completely messed up. Really there’s no “market forces” at work here, but a variety of forces focused on cheapness that depress the market on one hand – and encourage people to move because if you can be agile (and are unbound by the concerns a visa brings) then it’s easier to leap jobs.
Think of us as having not one labor market for IT, but several, and it makes a lot more sense.
Oh and remember Church’s article on bad poker playing? I’d say this fits. Get Guest workers in, drive wages down, try to do it again or replace someone – but of course you can’t do it forever. Sound familiar?
Meanwhile wages keep going down and you’re less likely to get people unless they’re desperate.
So having explored these options, let’s ie it all together.
- There is obvious bias against hiring/retaining female, black, and hispanic people in IT/STEM that results in less representation in IT than one would expect. That affects a pretty significant chunk of people in the market – and when it comes to senior people, further create a gap one as you may not hire some people due to your bias. When you start excluding parts of the population early, it just gets worse from there as people leave the field and don’t come back.
- There appears to be some bias towards people in IT of a certain age – mostly likely in jobs outside of management and system architecture. As my past study found a chance we’re making more senior than junior jobs, this attitude is particularly bad because it negates the ability to deal with a gap. How many senior people could fill these openings if they just got hired – this would make a gap worse or create one.
- The growth of major jobs in expensive areas, with jobs distributing as well, there may be location pressures. It can be hard to recruit to regions for various issues, from its too expensive to suddenly the jobs are n a place you don’t want to go.
- Expecting wage pressures to provide simple supply and demand isn’t working. Wide ranges of wages in IT, frozen wages that encourage changing jobs (that people are reluctant to do), and bad hiring practices make it hard to hire people when there may well be a gap. If anything, being cheap is going to make it seem like a gap as you’re not offering enough to lure cautious people away.
- Guest workers produce another factor on wages, and that’s a downward one. Which makes things worse and further encourages “bad poker playing” – and those workers won’t be around forever.
So what this seems to come down to for me?
First, as I noted I was suspicious there was an IT gap that was relatively recent but that we didn’t have a lot of evidence due to pay rates. Well pay rate information frankly isn’ that valid without deeper analysis – there’s no basic “market forces” here.
Going back to job creation rates, I then more lean towards “we probably are creating more senior positions than junior and it is a problem” – but pay rate information concealed this.
However no matter if/when this gap materialized, there’s enormous amounts of pressures that will either make it worse or actually create one. Bias against people for age, gender or race ends up ratcheting down available talent for a significant part of the population, in an area that may already have gaps, is a disaster as well as unethical.
Throw in insane prices and weird job distributions and you have further problems of people who can’t/don’t/won’t move. You just might not be able to get people to your area – there may be companies experiencing “personal gaps” as well. Individual companies may be making or experiencing their own unique gaps.
Finally, consider the fact that you may have downward wage pressure that kicks wages down . . . while encouraging people to leave jobs. Then you have the Visa issue which further drives wages down, while meaning people have to focus on other issues in their careers – leaping jobs, relocating, etc.
Oh and those people with Visas? They don’t necessarily stick around for obvious reasons. Trying to compensate for gaps, real or imagined, with guestworkers is just going to make things worse and require you to refill positions anyway.
So there still might be an IT gap, but there’s also plenty of things going on that would bloody well create one on the senior level as people aren’t hired, leave, move, quit, get disgusted, won’t relocate, etc. However various factors are obscuring it, mostly wages.
I think there is probably a senior gap just based on job creation, obscured by wage issues and bad hiring practices. The other issues beyond just job creation are enough to worry about on their own, but are making things worse.
Big Lesson? Right now anyone in IT who is navigating their career – or navigating hiring, has a hell of a job on their hand.
So here we are at then end of my exploration. It was one hell of a ride, and though it’s clear I’m not a professional statistician or researcher, it’s also clear that this research is worth it. Certainly I learned a lot.
My conclusions did not fit my original assumptions. I assumed I’d find a minor but real gap all throughout IT, bias a factor but less prominent than it was, and wage pressure being more general as opposed to widely variant. So I’m happy to say I proved myself wrong. Worth doing.
It’s also not clearly a thing a lot of people would do, or do so as obsessively as I. This is something with many layers, and it takes a lot of endurance to go through it – indeed I could have done a lot more than I did. This is what I did for a semi-hobby/semi-professional experience.
Finally, we need to do this. IT especially is a complex area with a lot of twists and turns, that is also a vital area of our economy. Understanding what it involves is important.
– Steven Savage
Steven Savage is a Geek 2.0 writer, speaker, blogger, and job coach. He blogs on careers at http://www.musehack.com/, publishes books on career and culture at http://www.informotron.com/, and does a site of creative tools at http://www.seventhsanctum.com/. He can be reached at https://www.stevensavage.com/.