Monday, September 14, 2020

STEM-ing The Tide

The cat has completely escaped the bag: H1B visas are NOT about talent scarcity. And never has been. It is labor arbitrage. It is government overreach, taking money from workers and delivering it to high tech, high finance executives. What it isn't is a necessary tool addressing a shortage of qualified high tech workers. 

How do we know? 

Because each and every year we have more STEM graduates in the USA than we have jobs for them. By well over a hundred to one. So it really, really is NOT about a lack of home-grown talent. 

For a lot of high tech jobs the internet made it very easy to ship jobs overseas. But there were and are significant problems with off-shoring. Enter a compliant government with H1B visas. Jobs quickly came back home. Just not for the homies. 

But things are changing. Companies learned, quickly, from the Indian labor market that high quality advanced degrees are not what the jobs require. As it turns out India, outside of the most excellent IIT, has no problem self-certifying and pumping out diplomas at a rate not seen (or allowed) in the western world. Not so say that India hasn't produced many fine developers, but the simple fact is that very, very few are better than those produced in the USA. They're just cheaper. Or so it once appeared. Now it turns out that those sporting a US STEM degree, while superficially more expensive, are actually a very good value. Think "Brooks Law."

Now enter the pandemic. Travel restrictions suddenly make a LOT of sense. Even to the politicos who were sucking up to India with daily increases to H1B caps. 

Remote work suddenly became non-threatening. Previously front line managers in the US had legitimate fear that remote meant off-shore. Because it always had. Others in the management chain were insecure, assuming direct and indirect reports needed constant watching, and if they didn't maybe they didn't need a manager. Sort of what happened with off-shoring. Turns out constant surveillance was unnecessary. Most organizations found that workers were actually more productive, not less, almost as if supervision were unnecessary friction. 

Now we have entered a new, resurgent era. Where local talent is appreciated. Where productivity trumps tradition. Where American jobs are accessible to Americans who would otherwise be un- or under-employed. Where, as anyone who's spent much time developing with a global team already knows, quality will improve alongside reductions in missed deadlines.

Graduates with STEM degrees will no longer have to make the pilgrimage to the pacific coast to wave goodbye to their jobs. At least until the next round of lobbyists win the day.