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Veteran tech workers see themselves locked out of job market

IT workers with 15 or more years of experience say they're passed over for employment

By , IDG News Service
May 03, 2013 11:26 AM ET

IDG News Service - Many tech companies have called for the U.S. Congress to ease restrictions on high-skill immigration because they can't find qualified tech workers to fill open positions. Yet, many veteran IT tech workers say they can't find jobs.

More than a dozen veteran IT workers, contacted through the Programmers Guild and high-skill immigration critic Norm Matloff, computer science professor at the University of California at Davis, say they can't find jobs, with many pointing to a glut of cheap workers available through the H-1B visa program.

[ TECH DEBATE: The better hire: The 50-year-old IT veteran or the fresh grad? 

RELATED: H-1B reform debate pits tech firms against veteran IT workers ]

Fifty-year-old Robert Wade, who has been in the tech and engineering fields for 27 years, has worked 10 months out of the last 40, he said. It's been eight months since his last paycheck, even though he has a bachelor's degree in electrical engineering and a master's in industrial engineering, with an emphasis in human/computer interaction and user interface design.

A recent study from left-leaning think tank, the Economic Policy Institute, seems to back up claims by Wade and other veteran IT workers. The U.S. has plenty of workers in the science and technology fields, the EPI study said. Only half of U.S. students who graduate in the science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields, however, gets a job in those fields, the study said.

The Information Technology Industry Council, a tech trade group, said the EPI study was "replete with faulty data, exaggerated claims, and plain wrong facts." The study relies on 2009 data when the U.S. was still recovering from a recession, Robert Hoffman, ITI's senior vice president for government relations, wrote in a blog post.

Wade, from Indianapolis, Indiana, said he's willing to move for work and has looked in Texas, Florida, Tennessee and other states. "The stories are usually that they have tons of locally unemployed tech workers to choose from so why would they want to pay for me to move there?" he said in an email. "I've even offered to pay the move myself, and still nothing."

Wade has drawn the line at getting additional training, however. "I'll take whatever training a company wants me to take, but I'm not spending my savings to get yet more degrees and more certs just hoping that some company will then hire me," he said. "That's all a crap shoot."

He may not pick the right area to focus on, he said. "The only way to know for sure is if a company will pay you to take the training," he said. "That means it has value to them. I already have a stinking master's degree and 27 years of experience and am having trouble finding a job."

Wade and many other out-of-work IT veterans say it's difficult to compete with lower cost foreign labor. "Companies mostly just want cheap workers, or they want someone that has already done the exact job they are hiring for," he said.

Many companies post very specific job requirements in an effort to weed out veteran workers, said Wade and other experienced IT workers. Veteran workers can train themselves in new programming languages or tools, but that's no guarantee of a job, they say.

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