The war for STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) talent is being taken to new heights. I was amazed at the extremely high (stratospheric, unprecedented) prices that Silicon Valley and other high tech companies were paying; for small of unheard start ups, that suddenly command billion dollar valuations. I remained puzzled by these phenomena; as it made no sense at all to pay for these unheard of companies with negligible revenues and profits, which some venture fund was supporting out of small offices with smaller staffs. Then I read Vivek Wadhwah of Duke’s article and realized that these are actually “acqui-hires.” They are paying ridiculously high prices for top talent as they are starved for innovation and bright people. He went to explain that “According to the National Science Foundation, only 37,000 Americans graduate each year with a bachelor’s degree in computer science and another 10,000 with a master’s degree. Moreover, the Conference Board calculates, that there are roughly four job openings for every unemployed computer worker.”
His much earlier research based on sheer number of engineering graduates; had pointed to the demise of the Indian IT industry, and that the next Goliath would be China with its huge numbers of graduates, and the US will do fine. He has found that the ground reality is quite different; as when he got out of his ivory tower and in his words, “Data may say it’s a sunny day, but you need to open the window to make sure that it isn’t actually raining.… Subsequent research that I performed by traveling to India, China and Silicon Valley revealed that India’s IT industry was booming, China’s graduates could not innovate and U.S. tech centers were starved for engineering talent.” He also found that contrary to popular belief of folks opposing immigration reform on the ground that immigrants reduce wages, steal American STEM graduate’s jobs, and do not add value in the US; that “immigrants founded 52 percent of Silicon Valley’s technology companies and contributed disproportionately to the patents filed by leading tech companies such as Qualcomm (72 percent) and Cisco (60 percent).” With the severe reduction in allowing immigrant graduate students to study and stay on in the US; we find a brain drain and companies are increasingly forced to move their research and development centers abroad, to chase the fleeing talent. It is proving to be a boon for the countries that welcome and groom this talent; as the innovation and new centers of creativity develop with these entrepreneurs, pole vaulting them into the new economy.
As a nation of immigrants we have had alternate waves of protectionism and liberalization, over the past two centuries. When immigrants are welcomed, they work harder to make a place in society; and compete with the existing population, for jobs and opportunities. When the opportunities are not there then they create new opportunities; just to survive, and innovation and creativity flourish. While the big unions and majority of the middle class may find this an attack on their status quo; and their hard earned positions, they are actually holding their own future to ransom. America needs to evolve; and grow out of the doldrums and the only thing that drives this is human ingenuity and talent. Turning the spigot off on new talent; to protect the current state, will only lead to a downward spiral as productivity will stay the same, and eventually decline. When Bill Clinton signed NAFTA a huge vacuum cleaner, sucked a lot of manufacturing jobs across the border to Mexico and Canada. When China signed the WTO, a bigger suction pump pulled more jobs to their huge factories and abundant cheap labor. The net effect is that US GDP still grew; along with that of its major trade partners, and prosperity spread. Bush and the conservatives wanted to build a huge wall on the Mexican border to stop the illegals from crossing over; and we can look back in history to the other Great Wall in China built at a great cost, which did not stop the greatest empire from falling and the Manchu’s from ruling it. Misguided ideas waste resources, time and human talent; in building the tower of Babel, instead of the highways to the future.
American ingenuity and innovation has just bought us a century of energy; from shale oil and natural gas, in an abundance unimaginable in the dark Carter years. GE the poster child and bellwether for the American economy; today derives a majority of its revenue, income and innovation from its global operations. GM is now so embedded in China that their car sales there will outstrip their American sales, and the same is the case with many other multinationals. America remains the largest economy in the world, but it is only a matter of time; before they will be overtaken, and it is up to the leaders of our corporations and politicians to make a brave new world. The future is bright only if we stay open and allow bright young people to come to our shores, and share in our prosperity. Growth comes from new cultures and thoughts bringing renewal, to the old. Each new immigrant will contribute in his or her way, and make the next Google or be the next Einstein. We only have to provide the opportunities and society will benefit from new ideas, innovative thinking, creative problem solving, breakthroughs in new technical fields and continued leadership in the global markets and pave the way to new horizons unknown to us today; and all the naysayers will be left stuck in their hard-line positions. I am only an immigrant and know nothing of the American Psyche; except I would hate to see the hard working people around me, led astray from their destiny, by the regressive ideas of some conservative leaders. We must remain the leaders by riding this beast of innovation’s rising spiral; or resign ourselves to the fate of being consigned to history’s forgotten civilizations.