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Tech Titans board discusses hiring issues and immigration concerns

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February 07, 2017
The Tech Titans board is aware of the issues facing the tech community in North Texas and sharing best practices and discussing their challenges.

When discussing the growth in the tech market in DFW during last week’s board meeting, Tech Titans President Bill Sproull sited a report from CBRE about the top cities with tech momentum where DFW came in third behind Toronto and Charlotte, NC. “From 2012-2014, the three-year tech growth rate was 10.8 percent,” Sproull said. “If you look at the three-year spread from 2013 to 2015, that rate had grown to 19.7 percent.”

Some on the board verified that hiring is difficult. (This article will list content discussed, though to maintain free discourse in future meetings, individuals are not named.) “When I’m looking to make a hire, of course, you’re always going to look for a top-tier, but I’m not even finding people with an average skill set,” said one board member. “It keeps me from doing what I want for our business.”

Some larger companies with dedicated recruiting staffs stress using best practices for their success. Texas Instruments has invested time with internships and bringing in people to do three rotations in three years (one rotation each year).  Their retention rate is 90 percent with these efforts. State Farm also uses an intentional, tailored approach to recruiting at different schools. “These kids that we bring in are amazing. Our older employees are learning from them.”

Another board member agreed that the regional colleges and universities as a source for talent is a definite advantage for the region. “We don’t have to rip them out of the coasts. We have home-grown talent that is on par and even better than what you’ll find elsewhere.” Of note was a stat from UT Dallas that its enrollment has grown by 43 percent in the last 10 years, and UTD has more national merit scholars than all the University of Texas campuses combined.

However, a few other board members specifically called out the difficulty in finding experienced people especially in more specialized fields. A staffing expert said, “If you look at the U.S. as a whole last quarter, there were 25,000 job postings just in cybersecurity, even with a non-college degree. And every time the media announces a hack at a company, there’s a spike in demand.”

Another said “It wasn’t this hard two years ago. But if you’re looking for experienced people, I’ve never seen it this tight.”

Another area discussed was what the business outlook seems like to member businesses for the coming year, one data point noting that cap ex spending dropped during the previous year.

“It looks good for business, but there’s a lot of unknowns out there,” said one. “Whatever your political beliefs, with the immigration ban announced -- we have a lot of naturalized citizens -- there were employee meltdowns in the halls. We lost 2-3 days of productivity, not even counting the visas that we continually have in process.
“It’s interesting to see the nationalistic tendency that is going on worldwide. Thus, I’d have to say that we have guarded optimism.”

Many of these same concerns have been top of mind during Tech Titans Advocacy Team meetings and will be brought up with legislators during trips to Austin and Washington DC in the coming months.
Concern about rolling back HB-1 visas was also mentioned. See a previous article from Tech Titans/MTBC in its stance for growing availability for HB-1 visas.

• Raise the cap on the number of H-1B visas that the U.S. grants. The federal government only hands out 65,000 of these visas every year, and they are gobbled up as soon as they are made available. Tech Titans supports doubling the cap initially, and then raising it year by year to some set limit. Further, Tech Titans supports H-1B visas going to temporary workers with at least a bachelor’s degree in specialized fields like engineering or mathematics.

• Giving priority in H-1B visas to immigrants who have degrees in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields. Foreign-born students make up an increasing percentage of people receiving STEM degrees from U.S. colleges and universities. If the immigration system does not have a mechanism for allowing these immigrant students to stay in this country when they graduate from US universities, they are forced to go home – and the U.S. industry loses out on skilled workers that it desperately needs.

• Making it easier for exceptional foreign workers to get permanent residency in the United States. Foreign-born people with hard-to-find skills often want to work in the U.S., but can’t because our broken immigration system may allow them to stay here only six years at a time. It’s time to let exceptional immigrants receive permanent residency in this country.

• Creating a visa for foreign entrepreneurs who invest in this country and create jobs for Americans. Immigrants who promise to make a substantial monetary investment in their U.S. businesses and agree to hire people in this country should be given a visa. This type of visa is already available in other countries with which the United States competes for economic development.

• Streamlining the employment verification program nationwide. The current system is outdated and impacted by different state laws. Businesses that operate across state borders need one consistent approach to employment verification, rather than a patchwork quilt of laws.

Tech Titans does not take a position on whether immigration reform should be done through one omnibus piece of legislation or through a series of bills targeting our key issues. However, we do take a position that any reform must include the points we’ve made above.

We are doing all we can with our local education system to produce more locally trained and skilled technology professionals, but it’s not enough.

What we care about is keeping and recruiting skilled employees in and to this region. With the economy picking up and the shortage of U.S.-born STEM workers becoming an issue once again, North Texas employers are increasingly facing a choice: find the people they need to do the job on these shores, or ship the work outside America’s borders. Given the increasing globalization of the economy, we need more reforms to remain competitive in the worldwide economy.

Amy Alexander, Director, Marketing and Communications
amy@techtitans.org, (972) 792-2862