What Price High-Tech Workers?

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the fastest-growing sectors over the next 10 years will be high-tech and e-commerce. However, while 1.2 million college students in the United States earned bachelor’s degrees last year, only 5.5 percent received engineering degrees.

The result is an equation that even a non-engineer can understand: High Demand + Low Numbers = Shortage.

Massive Growth

“Positions for system analysts and computer engineers will grow by 91 percent over the next decade,” the Labor Statistics report says.

With that coming headache in mind, many e-commerce startups and established players have begun to offer new and existing employees such incentives as stock options and cash bonuses.

Taking the model to the sublime, Andersen Consulting announced yesterday that it will invest $200 million (US$) into e-commerce-related companies on behalf of its employees and kick in an additional $100 million each subsequent year. The wealth created by these units will then be shared as bonuses and benefits.

Locking in Top Performers

Andersen’s newest golden handcuffs, however, are only designed for what the company characterizes as “top-performing and long-term” employees.

“We are doing this so that those who build their careers with Andersen Consulting will be able to share in the wealth created by the firm,” said Vernon Ellis, the firm’s international chairman. “We are blazing a trail our competition will envy.”

Well, I have talked to enough high-tech consultants to know that it is not uncommon for those with such skills to job hop to the highest bidder. Therefore, it seems to me that Andersen is not acting out of the goodness of its heart — but is simply motivated by market realities.

By doing so, Andersen Consulting, like so many other firms, has decided to treat the symptoms of an endemic high-tech labor shortage while doing little to cure its underlying causes.

Poverty Among Opulence

Conversely, in places like Silicon Valley — where 13 billionaires and 17,000 high-tech millionaires reside — the incomes of the working poor are staying flat, according to Business Week.

If the high-tech shortage is ever to subside, then companies like Andersen must fund training programs and scholarships for the working poor, instead of trying to concoct improbable incentive programs.

The labor unions could help by dropping their shortsighted opposition to immigration quotas that would allow more high-tech workers to immigrate to the U.S. from overseas.

Another Look

Until something radical changes, it appears that a few high-tech workers have a lot to celebrate. However, in the meantime, we can expect e-commerce and other Internet companies that cannot offer gaudy incentives to be sorely underserved or overextend themselves to compete.

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