Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Tech sector is slow to hire

Two articles - one local, and one national - tell the stories of unemployed Oregon workers in high tech sectors.

The New York Times reports today that high tech companies escaped the recession relatively unscathed, and have posted strong profits. Yet, as the nation struggles to put people back to work, even high-tech companies are slow to hire. Job growth in fields like computer systems design and Internet publishing has been slow over the last year. Employment in areas like data processing and software publishing has actually fallen.

Rosamaria Carbonell Mann, a software engineer in Corvallis, was terminated in June when her employer closed its branch and sent the work to China. Corvallis was once a hotbed for start-ups. But now with layoffs at area tech companies, including Hewlett-Packard, the city has a glut of unemployed engineers with multiple degrees. Mann says, "I apply for everything I can find, but there are just not that many jobs out there."

We find a similar job search story in The Oregonian article on David Walker, a Portland worker laid off in 2007. He didn't fret when he first started his job search; he had 20 years of experience and extensive technology training. As time passed, Walker resorted to sending hundreds of résumés. He got nothing. Not even for $10-per-hour warehouse jobs.

Walker ultimately left high tech, and developed a start-up business. While he is starting to see the results of his efforts, it didn't come easily: the family's experiences included spending cuts, selling possessions, exhausted unemployment benefits, the threat of home foreclosure, and mortgage and car payment restructuring.

While many high-tech workers continue to seek work, or leave the industry for different opportunities, high-tech companies nationwide say they are struggling to find highly-skilled talent in the United States. Given the dynamism of the industry, the skills of the unemployed begin to depreciate almost immediately. Pair this with the addition of highly-skilled labor overseas, and the result is a mismatch here at home. We may not have enough workers with cutting-edge skills, and the needed skills can be found overseas at a lower cost.

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