Theme: Impact of the Internet on Education

June 29, 2010

Life has distinctly undergone some very dramatic changes ever since the dawn of the Internet era and with each passing day there is a growing dependence on it. Those who are used to it would know the helplessness experienced when deprived of riding on this superhighway of information. It has also had a tremendous impact on the sphere of education.

Learning is the act or process of internalising knowledge and acquiring new skills. Modern, web-based learning and computing spells a revolution in the way the tutoring is delivered to students. Imparting education through the Internet involves multimedia learning resources combined with CD-ROMs and workbooks. It is an attempt to explore the fundamentals or the essential concepts of a course by tapping the full academic power of multimedia. Many educational websites use different features such as interactive examples, animation, video, narrative etc.

In the face of fast evolving technology, phenomenal quantum of information that is processed each day and the demands of an ever increasing population; the arena of education seems ready for some real changes. Traditional pedagogy has always focussed on the learning content that is to say the what’ factor of it. With the technology taking active role now, the focus is bound to shift to the how’s’ and a more realistic approach. The requirement from a pupil also has changed. The education through this medium requires a willingness to learn that to cram information.

Online education is growing too fast to track. Hundreds of universities have been putting some basic courses up on the Web, colleges and schools have also incorporated some web element into their curriculum. The day is not far when ours will be a society where education becomes a life long process, with the young and old, pursuing some knowledge. The need is to adapt to the technology aided interaction. It will take considerable effort to acknowledge the new method of instruction. Teaching face to face is the most effective method. With the Internet that kind of interaction is possible and it can be effective even with the instructor and the learner at different locations.

The power of the medium to transcend the constraints of infrastructure, timings and distances has increased the hopes too. There is the ease of reaching out without the limitations. It is not only limited to that, thousands of schools across the world have integrated the traditional way of instruction with the learning through the Internet. Children often surf through sites for supplementing information available in the textbooks, to read extensively on the topics that interest them and also to aid project works they are required to do. It is often about accessing an online encyclopaedia and looking up a subject.

The magic of Internet is that it is a powerful instructor and is fantastic at the task of motivating and engaging students. There is a link possible with anyone world over, a certain dynamism is imparted to all that is being donebasically, there are no limits. The scouting for information does not require handling heavy tomes, scouring through catalogues, spending hours in libraries etc. It can be done all at home with the click of a mouse. It is the quick results and the range of choice that seizes the imagination.

However each time a huge technological breakthrough happened, the enthusiasts spelt the end for the existing ways. There is no doubt that the effect has been incredible. But like every other thing this has more than a single aspect to it. As with all else there are concerns that crop up here too.

It is a rather ponderous issue if students are able to outsource home work and projects for a small fee. Apart from the regular information sites, there are sites that are designed specifically to aid with homework. Some online services provide specific areas to assist with assignments, including the ability to send questions or homework problems via e-mail to experts in a subject area and receive responses in as little as three hours.

If this flourishes, children are unlikely to develop skills in the fine art of analysing, thinking or even constructing thoughts or ideating for that matter. It raises the issues of validity of such instruction as the independent thought process is hindered owing to the awareness that all can be readily taken off the Internet and need not be arrived at. Modern technology cannot substitute for a thorough reading of the great classics in literature, philosophy, and political history. Being technologically advanced and sophisticated is not the same thing as being literate and civilized.

Experts on education also feel that computer technology and the Internet are brilliant means and they should not be made the end. Why do we forget that the masters of their craft like, Mozart, Shakespeare, Monet etc. could create even when the Internet was not there! The brain flourishes freely and ideas blossom marvellously when they are given an open sky and a broad horizon. To the contrary, a broadband is only capable of flooding with existing information and even curb the ideas that could have been.

The other doubt relates to the veracity of the information on the Internet. It should not be taken as accurate and true unless verified. Teachers while encouraging the use of the net as a tool should also teach the students to evaluate information, judge what is credible and what is false. Change may not be easy, but it is necessary, unavoidable and often beneficial. But if the ability to discern is not imparted by the teachers, the entire process of education is just a transfer of information with out any value. Another problem is that the teacher is not able to size up students abilities as closely as one could in a real environment and thus determine the correct approach to go about teaching.

Nevertheless, education is a process of intellectual growth. The biggest impact of the Internet has been to change the point of view that education is something can and should be delivered. The essence of education lies in learning and not in teaching. The best teacher is one who never ceases to be a student himself/ herself. Teaching is not about holding on to huge amounts of information; it is more about giving direction to the thought in individual minds. The Internet is best treated like a tool rather than glorified as the next great teacher.

Abhy is a communication expert and also has a keen interest in all that is new age. She has been writing for the last 11 years on a variety of topics. God, Books, Food and Love in different order, depending on the mood and need sum up her life. She has two children, elder aged 7 years and the younger one all of 4 months.

Theme: Attending an Accredited College or University Does Not Guarantee Career Success

April 20, 2010

To begin, let’s take a look at what accreditation means and who’s accrediting.

There are six regional accreditation agencies, but there are also national accreditation and specialized accreditation agencies. The six regional accrediting agencies cover the United States and review the programs, campuses, and education delivery of their respective, regionally located colleges and universities. National accrediting agencies perform the same functions as the regional agencies; however, they generally focus on for-profit schools. Some of the national accrediting agencies are Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges of Technology (ACCSCT), Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools (ACICS), and Distance and Training Council (DETC). They also accredit faith-based colleges and universities. Lastly, students studying in such fields as dentistry, medicine, nursing, and law generally need to graduate from accredited programs with specialized accreditation from professional associations.

When people speak of accreditation, they generally are referring to the regional accrediting agencies because they cover the majority of traditional colleges and universities. And for some reason, students and parents believe that because an institution is accredited that if they study a particular curriculum it is preparing them for a particular career. Not always the case.

Personally, my undergrad and graduate degree are in English; however, none of the courses prepared me for teaching: composition, literature, technical writing, critical thinking, and so on, or that which I have taught (a point of note is that I was not required to take one grammar or composition course as an English major). Even when I studied to obtain a position in the computer field, the curriculum did little to prepare me for the type of programming I ended up doing. In addition, I have met, spoken to, and read about numerous business professionals who mention that their business degree has been of little use to them. Even my lawyer friend-the program he enrolled in received specialized accreditation-speaks to the fact that there is a great difference between what he learned in school and what he is now doing on the job.

My point being that, certainly, there is a great difference between theory and application, but more importantly, the majority of time students attend a college or university believing that the education received will prepare them for a particular career. That is often not the case, except in more rigorous or specialized fields like medicine and law. In order to be successful, to avoid wasting years and leaving 100s of thousands of dollars on the table in lost salary, it is critical that students do their research to discover not only what they want to do but what the job they’ll be doing requires. And this involves more work than one may initially perceive.
To limit the poor education to job or career match, first one must thoroughly know one’s talents, abilities, and gifts, for it is here where one will not only find a career but in exploiting these personal attributes find life-satisfaction and self-actualization. But this is an involved process and even after discovering what one was put here to do, it is imperative that he or she stick to it.

For example, Albert Einstein knew what he was put here to do; however, he went a good decade of seeing his great insights ignored. At times he was so despondent he felt little desire to carry on. At one point he even considered going into sales. Imagine seeing Einstein at your door selling encyclopedias. Even the great politician Abraham Lincoln had to put aside his talents, ambitions, desires, and gifts for close to three decades as he failed time and again to get elected to office. He finally succeeded at the young age of fifty-two. Imagine where this country would be if he had given up?

So after one truly discovers and, most importantly, commits to exploiting one’s talents, abilities, and gifts, he or she must understand the success principles involved that will aid in the achieving of one’s goals: self-control, focus, accountability, doing more than one’s asked, how to profit from failure, and so many more.

Bottom line, it is the individual’s responsibility to know the limitations of education, what he or she was put here to do, how to stick to the plan or goal of exploiting and capitalizing on those gifts and talents, and to build an accurate match between education and career. No accrediting institution will do this work for you. And equally important is to avoid going into a career simply because a parent has done so or they advises you to go into a career against your better judgment (for how can you do that which will occupy one-third of your life without passion?), or because that’s simply where the prestige or the money is, and so on; go into a career because you know that is where you need to be to not only satisfy your desires but to come to the aid of all those you may touch as you apply your craft in a focused and impassioned manor.

Please choose wisely and knowingly, for the world is in great need of those who do more than the minimum. Pick up your torch, the reason you were put here, and through your passion build a better community, state, country, even nation and world.

Here’s to your success!

  Jeff is a Career, Life, & Mentor coach & CEO of working with students and parents using the proprietary Success, Design and Preparation system creating a plan to ensure his clients are of the 30% of college grads who don’t waste 10 to 15 years or leave 100s of thousands of dollars on the table.

Prior to owning Inner Projection, Jeff worked as a computer programmer and in tech. support, but hated it enough to move from his home in Connecticut to do stand up comedy in Boston where he worked with such comics as Bill Burr, Dan Cook, and Billy Martin and wrote for people like Mz. Michigan who needed material for her ventriloquism act. He then moved to Los Angeles to do more stand up, but found being a coach & college instructor more rewarding. He’s married with 3 children.

Theme: Your 2010 Job Search Checklist

February 24, 2010

By Michelle Dumas

The days of simply browsing through the Sunday newspaper and sending out a few resumes in order to win your next career opportunity are over. The days of retiring after having worked for just one or two companies are also over. Downsizings, mergers, offshoring, acquisitions, corporate reorganizations, consolidation, and other change initiatives have required rapid adaptation of workers, hard career decisions, and frequent transitions. These days, the average worker will hold approximately ten jobs before the age of 36. The average worker will change careers several times during his or her lifetime.

While the timeframe for your job search will vary with the specifics of your situation, a commonly cited statistic is that the average job search will take anywhere from three to six months from initiation to the day you begin your new job. The U.S. Department of Labor indicates that the average length of unemployment in the U.S. is currently 18 weeks (a little over four months), but this figure covers all professions, all industries, and all professional levels. Another common job search statistic tells us that you can expect to spend approximately one month job searching for each $10,000 in salary you are seeking.

Do you have a job search planned in 20108? If you do, and if you are looking forward to your next job search with dread, you are definitely not alone! Job searching can be incredibly stressful. But, with some planning, genuine effort, and sincere commitment, you can minimize that stress and land a new job – one that is personally, professionally, and financially rewarding – faster than you may have thought possible.

Here is a checklist to help you achieve a fast, successful job search in 2010.

_____ Set a clear target. Put yourself in the driver’s seat of your career by clearly defining your job search focus. In general, the more precise and focused your job search is, the better. For most people, the best and strongest job targets will include a statement of the job function and professional level paired with other indicators, sometimes just one and sometimes more than one, to make the job target more precise and ultimately more effective. These other indicators may be criteria such as industry, company size, company culture, or geographic location.

_____ Build your network of support. Don’t underestimate the importance of having a strong support network to offer encouragement and advice, to brainstorm and share ideas with you, to help keep you accountable to the goals you set for yourself, and to help keep you on track throughout the emotional roller coaster that a job search can be. Family and friends are often included in the support network, but also consider joining a job search group or working with a career coach, particularly one who is very familiar with job search mechanics.

_____ Adjust your attitude. An enthusiastic, “can-do” attitude that exudes self-confidence and a clear understanding of the value you offer in the workplace will make all the difference. Always put a smile on your face when you talk on the phone; it will shine through in your voice. Make eye contact and watch your body signals and posture when you meet with contacts in person. Your positive, confident attitude is one that people will like to be around and will make it more likely that you will be hired.

_____ Update and revive your resume. Your resume is your first introduction to employers. Don’t underestimate the importance of making a positive first impression with it! Your resume should be up-to-date, focused for the current search, employer-centered, and results-oriented. YOU are a commodity in the job market and your resume is your advertisement. If your resume needs refreshing, now is the time to do it. If you need help with your resume, you should definitely consider hiring a professional resume writer.

_____ Cultivate and strengthen your professional network. With more than 80% of available jobs never advertised, it is essential that you have the ability to access the hidden job market. Your professional network will be one of your most effective sources for information and referrals relating to the hidden job market. Of course, networking is all about relationships and so you should continuously nurture your network relationships regardless of whether you are job searching or not. But, whether you have or haven’t (If you haven’t, building network relationships would make a great New Year’s Resolution), now is the time to reach out to everyone you know to inform them of your search and to ask for advice and referrals. Consider using a website like LinkedIn to help with your effort.

_____ Establish and promote your personal branding. At its essence, personal branding is about the authentic and unique promise of value you offer. In relation to your career, it is about the promise of value you offer that differentiates you from your peers and competitors in the workplace and job market. Branding yourself can actually have such a dramatic effect that you will become hunted rather than being the hunter for your next job opportunity.

_____ Get organized and create a system for managing your job search. An organized plan and system will help keep you motivated, moving forward, and focused on achieving the ultimate goal. At the very least, you need a calendaring system, a system of logging inter-related and follow-up activities, a contact management system, and a filing system.

_____ Create and follow a written, multi-pronged job search plan. Answering ads or posting your resume on the Internet are the easiest, but usually least effective job search techniques. Your job search plan should include a balance of techniques to access both the published and unpublished job market. Further, it should include activities prioritized and strategically selected to fit in each of the five major job search approaches: 1) Networking and referral building; 2) Targeting and contacting employers; 3) Working with recruiters and agencies; 4) Internet job searching (which also has some overlap with the 5th technique); 5) Answering advertisements.

Theme: The Top 5 Biggest Obstacles to Getting the Career You Want

by Gayle Cross

Paid work plays such a dominant role in our lives. It takes up most of our energy, occupies us for most of our waking hours, and often gets more quality time than our partners and children, leaving very little for ourselves.

If your job isn’t right it can feel as though your whole life isn’t right. You’re either at work wishing you were somewhere else, or at home worrying about the next day back at work. Whichever way you turn, work looms large on the horizon, with only temporary respite. But don’t worry – it doesn’t have to be this way.

I have compiled a list of the top 5 biggest obstacles to getting the career you want that I have come across in my coaching practice. The good news is that you can overcome all of them . . .

1. Obstacle: ‘I’m not enjoying my job, but I don’t know what I want to do instead!’
Solution: Start with what you don’t want.

Many people are very clear about the reasons for being dissatisfied at work – be it a non-communicative boss, long hours, or a lack of opportunity to develop new skills. What stops them moving forward is not being able to articulate what they’d rather do instead. This is not a problem – start with what you don’t want.  

Compile your list of complaints, dislikes and issues with your current situation. What annoys you the most? What wouldn’t you miss? What aspect of your job leaves you cold? The more specific you are about this the better. So for example, instead of saying ‘I hate not earning enough money’ decide how much more you want – ‘I hate being $400 a month short of what would make me comfortable’. ‘I hate the long hours’ is very general, but ‘I hate working after 6pm most nights’ is much more specific and helps you pin down what the real issue is.

Then think carefully about what changes you want to make – what is it you do want?

What does your ideal job look like?

2. Obstacle: ‘I feel unfulfilled by my job, but I’m too old to change direction now.’
Solution: Market your experience (you have more to offer than you think.)

People are now living, and working, much longer than they used to. Most of us are now expected to keep working until we are 65, or beyond. In your life time you will have plenty of opportunity to switch career several times, so what is holding you back?

Historically the culture of age discrimination in the workplace was rife in this country, but the demographics of the current population are such that this has to change. The UK is facing a massive skills shortage which will really impact businesses during the next 5 years. 16-29 year olds already comprise only a quarter of the workforce, which puts the ‘30 plus’ generation in the majority. This means that employers are being forced to recognise the benefits of maturity in the workplace.

In 2005 the Trade and Industry Secretary Alan Johnson said:

‘. . . to thrive in a competitive market British business increasingly bases its employment and training decisions on talent not age. Employers know they cannot afford to ignore the skills of any worker – young or old.’

Regardless of your age, you are valuable – and never too old to learn new skills. In 2004 the Reverend Edgar Dowse was awarded a PhD in Theology from Brunel University – aged 93!

Ask yourself:

Where do you want to be in five years time?

What do you want to be doing?
That time will pass anyway, so what’s stopping you . . .

3. Obstacle: ‘I don’t have the right experience and qualifications to pursue the career I
really want.’
Solution: Recognise that you are unique and all your skills and talents are transferable.

You may be clear about what you want to do, but you may also be very clear about why it is impossible. There are a hundred reasons why it will only ever be an impractical dream – not having the ‘right’ experience and qualifications to name but two. Having doubts is natural, but if you let your lack of confidence take over you are resigning yourself to more of exactly the same – forever. Who says you are too inexperienced or under-qualified? After all, someone will be out there doing exactly what you have always dreamed of – so why can’t it be you?

Those filled with self doubt are often making the mistake of underestimating themselves and the skills they have to offer. Rather than focusing on what experience you lack, think about what you have done. Everything you have ever done, from your first Saturday job onwards, will have developed marketable skills that are transferable from one profession to another.

Think again about your experience – the things you offer, but take for granted, are often the things an employer will value the most. Do you think everyone is as punctual, reliable, enthusiastic and committed as you?

Finally, think of a project you really enjoyed working on – what made it enjoyable? What did you find most satisfying about the work that you did? What is really important to you about the work that you do? Starting to understand what you value about your work – be it making a contribution, exceeding expectations, team building or achieving goals – helps you to understand what is unique about you and what you offer a prospective employer. It is also an important step in overcoming the fears that currently hold you back.

What unique experience, talents and skills do you have to offer?

4. Obstacle: ‘I don’t have the time to find a new job.’
Solution: Invest in your own future by making your job hunt a priority.

If one of the reasons you are considering a career change is the ridiculous hours you are working, then finding time to job hunt could in itself be a problem. However, remember that everyone else is in the same boat – everyone has the same amount of hours and minutes in the day, it’s just that some are more focused on their priorities than others.

Hopefully by now you have decided what it is you dream of doing, however making that dream into a reality requires action. Now is the time to invest in yourself and your future. Take the time to investigate your options, sign up for the latest job alerts on the internet, read up about your chosen career, and talk to someone who is already doing it.

If you ‘don’t have the time’, it’s like saying you don’t think you’re worth it.

What makes you think you are not worth investing in? Who will suffer if you don’t act?

Making another excuse is usually a sign of fear – fear of what the future holds, fear of failure, or even fear of success. If this is you, think about who can help and support you as you make changes?

What will it take for you to make time for your own future?

5. Obstacle: ‘I basically enjoy my job, but the hours are killing me.’
Solution: Decide what would make you feel more in balance, and ask for it.

Okay – so this doesn’t sound like rocket science, but one of my clients actually resigned from a job that she basically loved because the hours and the travelling got too much. She was motivated, successful and well-thought of, but she was not prepared to go to her boss and ask for a degree of flexibility in the way she worked in case he said no, so she resigned instead. This is an extreme case, but it does go to show that when you’re feeling tired and stressed you are often not at your most rational.

This woman’s employer had every reason to want to keep her as an employee, it was in their interests to show a degree of flexibility, but she didn’t dare ask. Often this can be as a result of the working culture we are exposed to, the ‘get there early, stay late, show you are indispensable’ way of working that employees and employers alike mistakenly think shows commitment and increases the chances of promotion.

Wrong! To be effective and productive at work requires balance – and that means different things to different people. Only when you feel ‘in balance’ will you be at your most productive and creative at work.

Employers have had to take on board the new 2004 guidelines on Stress Management from the Health & Safety Executive – they have a responsibility to you and your wellbeing, so go on, ask for what you want. If they are really not prepared to meet you halfway, then it may be time to consider the alternatives . . .

Theme: Is Grad School Worth It?

By Kelli Smith

You see friends going back to graduate school. Your mother clips newspaper mentions of grad programs and slyly mails them to you with “thinking of you” post-its attached. You see a job posting for the position of your dreams, then notice the “master’s degree required.” In short, there are a lot of reasons you’re thinking about going back to school.

In 2004, there were over 2 million students enrolled in U.S. graduate schools, and it may seem clear to everyone around you (that newspaper-clipping mother of yours, for instance) that you should be among them. Credentials are great, but you’ve probably also heard the horror stories of the “over-qualified candidate.” And while Mr. Over-qualified may be an urban legend, the tradeoffs involved in either leaving the workforce or continuing to work while earning a degree are significant. Financially, professionally, and personally, is graduate school really worth it? 

Graduate School to Launch Your Career

For Chris, 30, the answer to the “was it worth it” question is a definite yes. He went straight from college into a Masters of Teaching (MAT) program. “My undergraduate drama degree wasn’t landing me any jobs,” he says, “and I wasn’t passionate enough about acting to [endure] the waiter/actor life for long.” A year and a master’s degree later, he started teaching. His degree gave him the teaching license he needed, but because it was a graduate degree, it also meant his salary was several thousand dollars higher than other beginning teachers who only held bachelor’s degrees. What’s more, each year thereafter his salary increased at a higher rate than theirs, but the real clincher was that he got to be a drama teacher.

For many people like Chris, a graduate degree is a means of launching a career. Academics present a classic argument for a post-graduate degree as a PhD is essential. This also holds true for doctors and lawyers. However, if you’re already working in your field of choice and are simply looking to get ahead, the question of graduate school may become more complicated.

Graduate School as a Career Booster

Will, 29, works in hotel management and decided the time off in going to graduate school wasn’t worth it. “I’d get a bump in pay and position if I got an MBA, but in my industry, just working those two years would get me more in terms of promotions, experience, and salary.” However, he decided he wanted the extra education anyway. Will felt that education would give him a slight boost at work and because it would give him a foundation to make a change in career field easier if he ever wanted to make one. So his solution was to keep working while enrolling in a distance-learning MBA program. Even though it’s the “have-it-all” answer, it hasn’t been without sacrifices. He’s busier than ever, with weekends and evenings now packed with schoolwork. For him, though, it’s worth it. “My wife and I don’t have kids yet,” he explains, “so this is the best time for us to work really hard.”

Part-time or distance learning graduate degree programs are becoming more and more popular. In 1990 only about a third of graduate students were enrolled part-time, but today roughly half of them are. For students like Will, doubling up works fine, but for others it can be a real burden. With more graduate school options than ever, there’s plenty of flexibility to be had, but you’ll have to take a close look at your personal life and the changes that you’ll need to make.

Graduate School as Reinvention

Karin, 28, also enrolled in a post-collegiate program while working full-time, but for her, the program was all about reinvention. She already had an MBA and was working at a job she liked well enough, but she couldn’t stop thinking “that if I really loved what I was doing, life would be different.” So she finally enrolled in a massage therapy program. She took weekend and evening courses, and now that she has the experience and education she needs to be a practicing massage therapist, she’s said goodbye to technology management and hello to her own massage therapy business. “Now I’m doing what I really want to be doing and building my own business, and I’m so excited about it,” she says. Unlike her old job, she explains, “Here people come happy and leave happy. It’s as much therapy for me as it is for my clients.”

If you’re looking to change over to another field–and you’re not alone in the modern workforce where mid-career career change is commonplace–a graduate degree or certificate or even coursework in a new area can do the trick.

Even with all the upsides of post-collegiate education, the answer to “is it worth it?” is still complicated. Take a close look at your profession, the flexibility of various programs, and your personal and financial situation because when all is said and done, the only real question is “is it worth it for me?” Now quickly, clip this article and send it to your mother.

Theme: The High-Tech Manpower Shortage: Is it Real or Mythical?

by V Berba Velasco Jr PhD

A decade ago, most Americans would have agreed that the USA needed more engineers and programmers. The country needed high-tech workers in order to maintain its worldwide edge in technology, and common wisdom dictated that there jus weren’t enough of them to go around.

As the years went by though, the tide of sentiment started to shift.  This was especially true after the Y2K threat fizzled out, after the dot com bubble burst, and after the 9/11 tragedy forced many high-tech US companies into conducting massive layoffs.  Among engineers and programmers, unemployment started to rise, as did resentment toward foreigners who were alleged to have taken jobs away from hard-working Americans.  Whereas high-tech workers used to trumpet the need to recruit talented manpower from overseas, many of them started to proclaim that there were plenty of techies to go around, and that this manpower shortage was all a myth.

Predictably, many Americans heaped blame on foreign workers, particularly those who were employed on H-1B work visas. This visa program allows workers in specialized categories-typically, science, engineering, and computer technology-to work in the USA on a temporary basis.  Resentful techies protested that there was no manpower shortage, and that companies only wanted to hire foreigners because these people would be willing to work longer hours for less pay.

So what’s the real deal?  When Americans technical workers remain unemployed, does this mean that US companies are passing them up in favor of cheap labor? Are there more than enough American techies to go around?  Is the high-tech manpower shortage real, or is it all just hype?

I think that the answer lies somewhere in between. Admittedly, there are many programmers and engineers who have a hard time finding employment.  It is also true that there are companies that deliberately underpay foreign workers.  Does this mean that the manpower shortage is mere fiction, though – nothing but a ploy to justify the hiring of low-wage foreigners?  Not necessarily.  There may be unemployed techies out there – perhaps even an abundance of them — but this doesn’t mean that a company will have no problem finding the specific kind of person that they need.  (It’s also worth considering that the unemployment rate among engineers has dropped considerably since the immediate post-9/11 era – but for the sake of argument, let’s assume that unemployment is still a grave concern.)

Some people seem to think that a programmer is a programmer and that an engineer is an engineer. They see companies choosing foreign nationals over US citizens and they protest that these companies must surely be looking for cheap labor.  Mind you, I have no doubt that some companies do operate in this fashion; however, we should not conclude that this is indeed their motivation.  People are like snowflakes, after all; no two of them are alike. Engineers are not interchangable, and it would be foolish to conclude that one programmer can do the work of another, simply because they both know how to produce code.

I speak from personal experience.  During the post-9/11 employment bust, I was working for a robotics company in Silicon Valley, where I was involved in evaluating prospective job candidates.  Despite the large number of available programmers out there, we had an extremely difficult time finding anyone who had the right skills.  We weren’t looking for a perfect match, mind you; just somebody who was close enough.  The best candidates were usually foreign-born, and few if any of them were US citizens. Additionally, while the best candidates did have the right technical skills (or were close enough to what we needed), their resumes and interviews often revealed inadequacies in other areas-lackluster communication skills, for example.

Mind you, I’m not saying that American techies are lacking in skills or qualifications.  That would be an oversimplification as well.  Rather, my argument is that we should avoid painting with a broad brush. Different companies have different needs, and some of them will have a hard time finding just the right people.  This is especially true of companies that are pushing the envelope of high-tech development and who need to recruit the most qualified people possible.

I’ve heard other engineers make the same observation.  As one commentator said, “A good programmer requires a lot of different skills. These skills are developed in several ways:  (1) a good basic education, (2) experience, and (3) analytical thinking.  I haven’t met much people who combine these skills.”  When a company isn’t just looking for someone who can hammer out code – when they need someone with strong analytical and problem-solving skills, for example, or who can develop strong software architectures – then the pool of possible candidates can dwindle dramatically.

This problem is especially acute in strongly cross-disciplinary fields.  Suppose that you need someone who can do circuit design, but who also has some software development and mechanical design skills.  Such people are valuable in fields such as robotics, automation, and disk drive design, and they can be tough to find.  When an American engineer is passed up for jobs like these, it’s typically not because companies want cheap labor. Rather, it’s because people with the right combination of skills can be mighty difficult to find.  That’s why companies are willing to recruit foreign nationals for these jobs, despite all the legal expenses and headaches involved.

So in summary, is the manpower shortage real?  In my judgment, yes and no.  There are indeed times when foreigners are hired because they’re willing to work for less.  However, we should not be quick to conclude that companies that hire foreign nationals are simply doing so to save a buck.  I’ve seen too many situations where a company had a difficult time finding anybody who had the right skill set, even when there was no shortage of applicants.