The education bullshit
May 11, 2005
It's always good to hear Gerry Cohen, founder of the venerable software house Information Builders, unload on the conventional wisdom. In a brief interview published in Computerworld last week, he takes aim at all the tech luminaries who have recently climbed to the pulpit to sermonize on the country's "education crisis." It's the lack of strong science and technology education, these folks say, that's responsible for the declining supply of good tech workers in the country. Cohen's response? "That's bullshit."
He says the real source of the problem isn't poor education but poor career prospects. The supply of homegrown tech talent will shrink because the availability of and compensation for tech work will decline as companies (including some of those headed by the sermonizers) shift jobs to countries with cheaper labor. It's simple economics. When wages go down for a category of jobs, demand for those jobs falls as well. "Why do you have declining computer science majors?" asks Cohen. "Because every parent is saying, 'Why major in computer science when all the jobs are going offshore?' It feeds itself. And I guarantee you, if it doesn't stop, in a couple years, you're not going to have much of an IT industry here."
I fear that Cohen's right. Think about the dynamic we're now seeing play out in the tech world. The labor competition from places like India and China is ultimately going to push the world toward greater uniformity in wage rates. That means wages will go up in the lower cost countries and go down in the higher cost countries, like the U.S., until we eventually reach an equilibrium. And as tech wages go down in the U.S., demand for tech jobs will fall even further, as young people seek other, more attractive careers. Meanwhile, the rising labor rates in India and China, et al., will further boost demand for tech jobs in those countries. The natural progression of wage rates toward equilibrium will, in other words, lead to an even greater disparity in the supplies of skilled tech workers.
None of this is to say that we shouldn't improve science and technology education, particularly in high schools, middle schools and elementary schools. But if we think stronger education will cure the shortage of domestic tech workers, we're wrong. It's job quality, not education quality, that in the end determines the careers people pursue.
It might seems India and China are winning here. But the situation is quite different. India is a developing country and does not need only IT Engineers. But people are flocking into IT from all other fields. From Civil, Electrical, Mechanical, etc. As such core engineering industries are suffering far acute shortage of good quality manpower.
Posted by: Shouvik Basu at May 11, 2005 10:00 AM
I doubt that we are seeing tech wages go down so that bit of the argument does not quite resonate. Recently a number of tech executives were polled about their kids' career choice and to their dismay their kids were chosing finance over tech due to the poor prospect of future work (rather than wages).
There is definitely a growing trend to see work get outsourced and off shored (where it is more econimcal). Those left are seeing their wages rise as they become more rare. The demand is for a higher skills set that combines technical with business and project management acumen. There is far less demand for raw skills of kids coming out of college - the forecasts for less US programmers are believable.
Posted by: Stuart Berman at May 28, 2005 12:24 AM
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