H1-B Visas in the Midst of a Global Economic Meltdown: Talent Shortage or Cheap Labor?
by Pierre Coupet
US employers are behaving like crackheads or heroin and nicotine addicts who think that the way to cure their illness and craving is to get more of it in some sort of sanitized version, e.g., methadone or a nicotine patch, instead of taking stock that they have a serious problem and the time has come to muster up the courage and willingness to QUIT. I know it will be hard and painful at first but there is no other way to really recover and avoid falling into a precipice.
Plenty of US Talent
I refuse to believe that we don't have enough Americans in the US who are smart or ingenious enough and willing to work; or that Americans just don't give a hoot about technology. As the former head of a national executive search firm for about 18 years, and up until my departure from the industry 15 years ago, we had talent up the ying yang who were just begging to go to work. But guess what? This talent consisted of native-born and naturalized Americans, the latter group I belong to, as well as "permanent resident" immigrants from every corner of the globe living in the US.
Plenty of Cheap Labor Overseas
The problem was, and still is today: they were just too darned expensive in comparison to our lower-paid colleagues from overseas on a H1-B visa who were just too happy to be in the US working for an American company and were willing to do whatever was required of them. Their level of dedication and enthusiasm is unsurpassed, and rightfully so, given the opportunity presented to them. And what do I mean by that? Well, for the most part, in most of these countries, they train them to learn and think like robots. By the way, I am from one of those countries. But once in the US, we train them how to build upon their basic knowledge and provide them with all the tools and support they need in order to "innovate." This is just too good a deal to pass up and I don't blame them one bit for taking us up on our generous offer. Whereas, in the US, we train our kids from day one to innovate but, for the most part, fail to adequately provide them with the requisite basic knowledge and support they need to succeed until they get to college. However, once in college, they have no problem at all excelling in whatever discipline they've chosen. The real question then becomes, "Which discipline are they steering toward that Corporate America needs in sufficiently large numbers?" That part is easy to resolve with a little bit of Yankee ingenuity.
Facts on the Ground Just Don’t Add Up
But we all know that's not what's really at play here because, if this were truly the case, we would have used the H1-B visa program on a temporary basis, and purely as a stopgap measure, during a period of approximately 4-8 years, while engaged in a parallel and concerted effort with academia to remedy the problem. But the H1-B program has a perpetual life and the request figures for new workers only get bigger and bigger year after year, instead of smaller and smaller. Just the way an alcoholic or crackhead or heroin addict wants more and more instead of less and less. Asking for less substance would indicate that some honest effort and equal amount of progress is being made toward some sort of recovery. Whereas, asking for more and more substance while claiming some attempt is being made toward a full recovery is, at best, a joke or just downright insulting to someone's intelligence.
Therefore, it's not really "specialized knowledge" that we're after, it's "cheaper labor." Call a spade a spade and let's dispense with all the smoke and mirrors about this artificial shortage. If we indeed had a "shortage" of talent in the United States, American companies would put in place the biggest "Brain Stimulus Project" known to mankind; pouring in droves into both our private AND public high schools and community colleges -- from coast-to-coast, in both the inner cities and the suburbs -- doling out a ton of money, sponsoring all kinds of technology outreach projects, providing mentors on a daily basis as well as part-time jobs and internships to kids who otherwise might fall through the crack. We already have something similar to that in the schools with respect to sports and entertainment. I don't see us importing Chinese, Japanese, or Indians in huge numbers for sports and entertainment.
Solution to Addiction
Even if we are to go along with their argument that there is a shortage, there is a solution to that. In fact, I propose that we adopt this solution whether or not we have a shortage. Here it is: Just imagine if each American company decided to put in a place a serious Strategic Marketing, Technology & Recruiting Plan that, at its core, would have the company adopt a particular high school or local community college in order to make a really concerted effort to help develop the sort of talent that this company needs. This must be a Joint internal effort between HR, Technology, and Marketing. Who knows, depending on the community and its location, you could wind up with more than one company adopting the same school. The more the better, however, I am sure one is enough to get the ball rolling in the right direction.
I am fully aware that you can't possibly get all the talent you need from one high school or community college, however, that being said, you would, as a member of this group of companies, be able to recruit talent from ALL the other adopted high schools and community colleges. The cost of doing so would be MUCH CHEAPER in both the short and long run. And you wouldn't need to wait to form a consortium prior to getting started. Go it alone for now and the herd mentality would kick into gear. Eventually, you could help organize this group of companies so they could share information on prospective talent out there, wherever in the US they may be. You'd be surprised at how quickly a "shortage" would turn into an "overabundance" of talent.
Just Do It!
I refuse to believe that our Chief Marketing Officers, Chief Technology Officers, and Chief Talent Officers are so brain dead that they lack the imagination and foresight to put in place such program. I believe it's only a matter of them choosing "the path of least resistance." It's much easier for them and much less complicated to just obtain some cheap labor from overseas, end of story. As my son used to tell me every time I would come up with some "not so brilliant or brilliant ideas" and try to bounce them off of him, he would say to me, looking somewhat irritated, "Papa, Just Do It!" Well, I've got the same refrain for my colleagues, Just Do it! Time is not on our side and we need to catch these kids while they are about to graduate from elementary school or starting high school, not after they've dropped out or graduated from high school with a mediocre education, at best. By that time---although it's never too late because our college students eventually get to catch up by the time they enter into their upper division phase of studies---they will definitely be starting from the back of the line at the very beginning because their counterparts in Europe and Asia are already way ahead of them in terms of both "basic technical" and "mental" preparation for the skills "you may need."
Yes We Can!
Such partnership effort can be almost painless and highly cost-effective---a stroke of genius, to say the least---with the right combination of Web 2.0 and Virtual Organization Management. As to the question of where the money would come from, it's already there, buried in your existing budget for HR, Advertising, Sales, Marketing, PR, R&D and any other department in your organization. Just call all your department heads, tell them their mission is to find ways to do things better within 1 week to 30 days because you need to reallocate some of this cash sitting in their budget, and tell them two other things, "Yes We Can" and "Just Do It!"
Don't chuckle or laugh out loud if you're thinking that I must live on some other planet and that just isn't the way things are done in your organization. Why? Well, if someone had told you a year ago that Obama would be elected president of the US and that the web would be his secret weapon, you surely would have thought that "this person was on crack." Therefore, it's really only a question of them taking the time to figure out how to be more efficient with respect to existing business processes, re-examining priorities, and the proper reallocation of resources. Skip all the high-powered consultants, year-long studies, etc., because your department heads are smart enough and already have most of the answers. They are just too afraid to step forward, rock the boat and ruin their careers--in respective order. After all, who wants their colleagues and bosses to think that they are on crack or are some sort of nut job.
What Next: Drastic Action or Status Quo?
On the other hand, if Corporate America believes that the shortage problem is really not that serious---it doesn't really rise to the level of a national crisis---then it would really have no valid or compelling reason to take such drastic action and it could opt to maintain the status quo and continue to do business as usual. So which is it?
In conclusion, even though I know this message will fall mostly on deaf ears, I still intend to continue to shout it out from the top of my lungs in the hope that some day we might begin to reverse this perilous course that we've been on for the past 20 years.
on The New Virtual Organization World Consortium