Debunking the H-1B hogwash: STEM grads are pouring out of U.S. colleges

Data giants like Facebook say we need more H-1B visas to fill U.S. STEM grad void -- but the numbers don't lie

Can there be too much of a good thing? When it comes to tech-educated students, the answer is sometimes. On the one hand, the IT industry always needs fresh blood. But the large increase in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) grads is already driving up competition for the best IT-related jobs.

Consider the numbers released Tuesday by Dice.com, an IT jobs board: In 2011, 43,072 IT-related bachelor degrees and 37,677 associate's degrees were awarded, jumping 9 percent and 16 percent respectively over the previous year. The number of associate's degrees in particular has jumped 36 percent over the past four years, Dice said, quoting federal statistics.

Between 2010 and 2011 six major universities reported strong growth in computer science degrees. They were: University of California at San Diego, 58 percent; University of North Carolina at Charlotte, 41 percent; University of California at Berkeley, 29 percent; North Carolina State University, 25 percent; University of Minnesota Twin Cities, 17 percent; and University of Illinois, Urbana Champagne, 11 percent.

Those numbers, as I argued last month, fly in the face of self-serving predictions by tech companies and their allies in Congress that U.S. universities are not producing enough STEM graduates, and we must therefore radically increase the number of tech workers allowed to enter the country on H-1B visas.

"As the growing demand for tech workers meets a growing supply -- a higher number of new two-year and four-year graduates entering the workforce -- the result may well be more competitive pressure for job applicants and a tougher fight among the best and brightest for coveted jobs on the enterprise side of the tech world," the Dice report states.

Wages still stagnant

There's empirical evidence to support Dice's speculation that competitive pressure may well toughen the labor market. Although unemployment in tech-related industries is much lower than in the nation as a whole, salaries have not increased much. Salaries in computer- and math-related fields for workers with a college degree rose only 4.5 percent between 2000 and 2011, says Ross Eisenbrey, the vice president of the Economic Policy Institute.

"What's more, two out of every three people who have a STEM degree are not working in a STEM field," he says. If there were a labor shortage, salaries would certainly have increased faster, and STEM graduates would be far more likely to hold jobs that are directly related to their education.

There are also indications that IT spending, which had been recovering nicely from the recession, may be slowing, which could affect the labor market as well. A new forecast by IDC predicts that worldwide IT spending will grow 4.9 percent this year in constant currency, down from the previous forecast of 5.5 percent growth and representing a slowdown from the 5.6 percent growth recorded in 2012. As you'd expect, the rapid deterioration of PC sales, the ongoing economic slowdown in the EU, and a shift away from traditional hardware and software to the cloud are responsible, says IDC analyst Stephen Minton.

That's not to say jobs are particularly scarce. They're not. As measured by Dice, the market for tech jobs isn't quite as hot as it was a year ago -- listings are down about 2 percent. But the current roster of full- and part-time jobs listed on Dice stands at 83,086, compared to 63,605 in May 2010, an increase of more than 30 percent.

What's hot in the labor market?

Dice surveyed nearly 900 hiring professionals and recruiters, asking which tech skills are the hardest to find in the labor market. They answered, in descending order: Java/J2EE/Java developer; mobile; .Net; software developer; security; SAP; SharePoint; Web developer; network engineers/networking; and cloud.

A check of the Dice database shows that actual openings don't altogether track with the results of the survey, but the list is reasonably close. The skills in highest demand are J2EE with 18,317 openings; software developer with 14,353; .Net with10,326; and SAP with 5,734.

Interestingly, in Dice's listing of the 13 skills in highest demand, SAP showed the largest decrease over the past year, dropping by 30 percent.

All in all, the latest report is a snapshot of a healthy labor market, but there's no evidence that the industry is facing a deficit of STEM graduates. These are important facts to keep in mind, as Congress and parts of the tech industry (hello, Mark Zuckerberg) beat the drums for higher H-1B quotas.

I welcome your comments, tips, and suggestions. Post them here (Add a comment) so that all our readers can share them, or reach me at bill@billsnyder.biz. Follow me on Twitter at BSnyderSF.

This article, "Debunking the H-1B hogwash: STEM grads are pouring out of U.S. colleges," was originally published by InfoWorld.com. Read more of Bill Snyder's Tech's Bottom Line blog and follow the latest technology business developments at InfoWorld.com. For the latest business technology news, follow InfoWorld.com on Twitter.

This story, "Debunking the H-1B hogwash: STEM grads are pouring out of U.S. colleges" was originally published by InfoWorld.

Notice to our Readers
We're now using social media to take your comments and feedback. Learn more about this here.