STEM Job Readiness A Useful Distraction
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It was announced last week that Microsoft, the tech giant, plans to eliminate 18,000 jobs. That has rankled many in the anti-common core movement because Bill Gates, Microsoft founder, has been out there promoting Common Core ostensibly because we need more STEM workers for companies like his. The claim he and other have made is that there is a shortage of such workers in the United States. What has upset the anti common core crowd is that Microsoft, along with other mega tech companies like Hewlett Packard and CISCO are simultaneously pressuring Congress to expand the H-1B Visa program to allow more highly skilled foreign workers in. While demanding more highly educated workers from the American education system, these large companies are demanding to import more labor from outside our shores. Something just doesn’t match up.
Computer World covered Senator Jeff Sessions response to the Microsoft firings (they are not lay offs). On the floor of the Senate he questioned the claim high tech companies are trying to make true by repeating it often. “What is the situation today for American graduates of STEM degrees and technology degrees? Do we have enough? And do we need to have people come to our country to take those jobs? Or, indeed, do we not have a shortage of workers, and do we have difficulty of people finding jobs?”
Sessions knows the answer to those questions. According to the recent US Census, we have a glut of STEM graduates. Seventy four percent of those who have a bachelor’s degree in science, technology, engineering and math — commonly referred to as STEM — are not employed in STEM occupations. Liana Christin Landivar, a sociologist in the Census Bureau’s Industry and Occupation Statistics Branch concurred. “STEM graduates have relatively low unemployment, however these graduates are not necessarily employed in STEM occupations.” The Center for Immigration Studies says that only one-third of native-born Americans with an undergraduate STEM degree holding a job actually work in a STEM occupation.
Increasing the H-1B cap from 85,000 to 180,000, as proposed in the Senate’s comprehensive immigration bill would lead to more age discrimination in the STEM field since most of the foreign workers would be younger, according to the forum Sessions sponsored recently to examine the impact of the Senate bill. It could also lead to wage reductions and higher unemployment for US STEM graduates. CIS said, “Wage trends are one of the best measures of labor demand. If STEM workers are in short supply, wages should be increasing rapidly. But wage data from multiple sources show little growth over the last 12 years.”
Those who live in the high tech alleys like Washington state and Silicon Valley know first hand the impact of the H-1B program. Diane Ravitch recently covered this story, and one commenter wrote, “Our area is flooded with H1b workers living in vast apartment complexes to serve a big bank. While American STEM workers, particularly over 40, are serving lattes at Starbucks.”
What do companies like Microsoft and Cisco get out of such worker programs? According to those who live there, they essentially get indentured servants. H-1B workers work for less money and benefits, have fewer job protections, are younger without families, and don’t ask questions. They remain in this country at the will of their employer. They are the ideal workers in companies most concerned about the bottom line. They can’t organize, demand higher wages or ask for family time off. They don’t think critically, they think analytically which is what these companies really want, but that is stuff for another post.
The big picture for Microsoft is that they have eliminated 18,000 jobs out of a work force of 127,000, telling those workers, ala Disney, to seek their happiness elsewhere. Most of those firings are occurring in the recently acquired Nokia division to get rid of duplication and deadwood. Most of Nokia’s manufacturing is moving to India, so the jobs really on the chopping block are in Helsinki, not America. About 2/3 of the layoffs are in this division. The rest are in management and marketing. Microsoft’s new CEO is cleaning house to bring the company back to parity. Overall it still puts them ahead by 10,000 workers from last year. We cannot let MS off the hook, however, just because these are not engineering jobs being cut. It is well known that the Gates/MS philosophy is “become more agile and move faster” which is code for “hire more cheap engineers and laborers in India.” Expansions in STEM will likely go to foreign workers, not American graduates. What seems to be needed to level the playing field is not better training of American engineers, but lowering of American’s wage expectations. So mothers, if you are pushing your child into STEM studies because you want them to be gainfully employed, you are about 15 years too late.
Gates’ et al continual whining about needing more STEM workers is just a smoke screen to justify common core. He has already told us why he wants common core, and it’s not to produce better or more American engineers. When he addressed the National Council of State Legislators in 2012 he famously said that, with common core “For the first time there will be a large uniform base of customers looking at using products that can help every kid learn…” The goal is to make the education field uniform for the benefit of the suppliers, not the children. That’s big company thinking for you. Uniformity and standardization lead to economies of scale and efficiency. Great if you’re talking about assembly lines, not so great if you are talking about the individual child’s future.
This has opened a debate about what, if anything, American companies owe to American workers. Progressives argue that cheap labor means that the folks taking those low wage jobs are better off than they would be without the opportunity to take those jobs. Those who want American companies to hire American workers are not thinking about the welfare of those in third world countries where this may be there only chance at a job. Somehow American workers can find other jobs, or create their own. Let the destitute workers have these jobs.
But we have already “let” the foreign workers have the low skilled manufacturing jobs. We have “let” them have the slightly higher skilled service jobs like tech support and radiological screening. Now we are talking about “letting” them have the high skilled engineering jobs. Keep in mind. These foreign workers will be writing code that will be operating in the background of our lives. So much of our lives is being automated from our utility infrastructure, to banking, right down to fast food. We have the lowest bidder, who is not being raised on the American value system, writing the code to tell our technology, which will control much of our lives, how to work for us. Just from a national security point of view, this does not seem to be the smartest move. Soon the only fields left for Americans will be upper level management, and Microsoft et al show us that there aren’t that many of those jobs.
Do American born companies owe anything to the country that enabled them to grow to the gargantuans they are? You don’t find companies like Apple, Microsoft or Google being created in countries that have a bigger population than ours, like China or India. You don’t see them growing to be international competitors from powerful countries like Russia. Only the conditions of freedom in America enabled companies to grow as large and successful as they are.
What rankles so many about this story is that the whole patriotic marketing campaign for common core was to make American students more competitive in a global market. We needed to completely change education, to standardize it, to use the technology from companies like Microsoft and Google to deliver it, in order to remain competitive. Yet when it comes time to support the products of that education, our kids, these companies instead pick the cheapest workers. While our school districts are being told to invest heavily in technology, like Microsoft Surface Pro pads for each student, the companies benefitting financially from that investment are pressuring congress to let in more foreign workers. The supposed need for common core falls apart unless American companies make some sort of commitment to hire the students produced by what they have foisted upon us. It is becoming increasingly clear that they are directing the political system for their own benefit with no quid pro quo for the American people.