The phantom tech worker shortage

I saw a story yet again about the tech worker shortage, and the backlash against H1-B visas. Reading the comments on Slashdot, I increasingly got the feeling the shortage is a mirage. The people are out there, but the matchups with job openings aren’t happening.

My experience may be anecdotal, but it mirrors this.In April 2013, I unexpectedly ended up on the job market. The phone call came one Wednesday evening. It was my boss.

“Dave, are you sitting down?”

That’s not how you want to hear a conversation start.

“Our last day is Friday,” he told me.

So, suddenly, he and I were on the market. My first opportunity came when a former coworker and mentor asked me if I’d be willing to come on as a temporary contractor assigned to a project he was running. The work was a good fit for my experience and abilities, the pay was good, the benefits were about non-existant, but it was a sure thing, so I accepted.

On my first day he told me to keep looking for a job. This gig was good until October, but he said he wouldn’t blame me if I found full-time employment before then and took it.

So, in total, I spent 11 months on the job market.

I changed my Linkedin profile to indicate I was working, but open to opportunities. The phone calls and e-mail queries came occasionally, all asking about the same vague job description: an advanced certification, 10+ years of experience, knowledge of Windows and/or Linux, Microsoft Office skills, the ability to perform a risk assessment and the ability to revise an information security awareness program. The only thing that ever changed was the name of the company. I met all of the requirements. But as rare as the calls were, interviews were even more rare.

I had the experience, glowing references, and I was doing good work–they extended my contract twice so they could keep me–but I really think that “temporary contractor” status was a scarlet letter for me.

I say that because in February, the company I was contracting for had an opening. The job was a good fit, so when they offered it to me I accepted. Then my phone started ringing. Nothing had changed, except that my Monster profile was closed and my Linkedin profile said I was working for a large company instead of an IT staffing firm. Same guy, same certifications, just one more year of experience now. And on the other side, the same generic security job descriptions. A scant 14 hours ago, I got not one but two unsolicited queries.

For a year, I was available. I was cheap too. The only time I ever flinched on pay was the time someone with a lousy commute offered me a 37% pay cut, which I think most people would understand.

I have a theory about why there are twice as many job openings out there now than there were when I was looking.

There isn’t a shortage of IT workers. There’s a shortage of people who know how to recognize qualified IT workers when their resumes land on their desks. And it’s time to quit trying to make that the government’s problem to solve.

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