Whose Job Is This Anyway?

The U.S. Democratic presidential candidate radio debate, held in Iowa and broadcast by National Public Radio, sparked little in the way of controversy, but it did manage to draw new attention to an all-but-forgotten subject"”the H-1B visa"”and the state of the world engineering job market.

The H-1B visa limit was slashed to 65,000 in 2004 and quietly receded out of the public spotlight until the Grassley-Sanders amendment recently attempted to more than triple the fee to corporations for the visa and funnel that money to higher STEM education.

The amendment, of course, was scrapped, but it brings us back to that salient issue of where the next wave or generation of engineers will come from and reminds us that they may not come from the United States.

"Why is America not educating and training American workers to do these jobs?" asked former Senator John Edwards during the radio debate. "If American workers are actually competent to do those jobs, American workers should be doing those jobs. The whole purpose of the H-1B visa program is to bring people from other places who have to do jobs that we don't have American workers to do."

Certainly, abuses of H-1B visas occur by some companies who allegedly pay H-1B visa employees less or profit by subcontracting them out, but that type of exploitation is against the law and not what we're talking about here.

While the surface discussion is about protecting jobs in the United States, the real issue is still developing or finding qualified individuals, whether they are engineers or software developers, to fill employment needs. And outsourcing the work or opening a new facility elsewhere often can be a solution that is just as viable as the H-1B visa. How many of you work for a company with offices or facilities in more than one country?

Illinois Senator and Democratic presidential hopeful Barack Obama has made it very clear in the past that his goal is not protecting American jobs, but developing American business. "We have a skills shortage, not a worker shortage. There are plenty of Americans who could be filling tech jobs given the proper training. Until we have achieved that, I will support a temporary increase in the H-1B visa program as a stopgap measure to attract some of the world's most talented people to America."

Obama's aim is true, and his long-term intentions to infuse the underrepresented minorities of the United States with those skills are admirable, but it demonstrates just how far behind the American work force may have fallen. At Control Design, we have discussed and will continue to discuss the many programs and organizations that are developing new engineers. But the mere discussion of a stopgap measure to buoy companies until new educational and training initiatives can be brought to fruition indicates it may simply be time to stop protecting American jobs and start embracing the global nature of the knowledge pool.

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  • <p>Mike is on the right track when he says: "it may simply be time to stop protecting American jobs and start embracing the global nature of the knowledge pool."</p> <p>It is hard to compete for and with talent from across the globe; but it is better than the alternative of closing the borders, giving up, and saying that America just cannot compete with foreign labor or foreign products.</p> <p>America and Americans can compete and win. They have been doing just that for over two centuries. I have been reading dire warnings about the competiveness of American workers and firms for 30 years, and during those 30 years America has prospered.</p> <p>No one wants to compete, but everyone needs to. It keeps up sharp.</p>

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