After three months of flat IT hiring, the tech job market kicked into higher gear in May, with more than 14,000 new jobs added in the field nationwide. But questions linger about the wisdom of fueling additional job growth by expanding the H-1B visa program.
Janco Associates, which tracks IT jobs and CIO hiring trends, crunched the latest employment data released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics and found hiring in the IT sector once again on an upswing after the relative doldrums of the first quarter.
Moving on up
After a strong January (with 15,900 new hires), hiring sagged the next month to the low to mid-8,000s -- still positive numbers, but far from the surges in job growth charted in the second half of last year. The stats for May, though, are slightly above the average of 14,200 for the last 12 months, according to Janco.
This increase is mirrored by the good news unfolding throughout the rest of the economy: In May, 280,000 jobs were added overall and fewer people sought unemployment benefits. Even one of the most consistently pessimistic indicators of the economy's health -- the labor force participation rate -- ticked up slightly for the second month in a row, to almost 63 percent. For the first time in eight years, the participation rate was higher than the same month in the previous year, Janco said.
Pay is also on the rise, especially for IT positions that require certifications. A recent Foote Partners study, the Q2 update of the "2015 IT Skills Demand and Pay Trends Report," notes that the average market value for 368 IT certifications "has increased for eight consecutive quarters," an increase the report called "unprecedented." Certifications for big data are among the big winners.
The H-1B fracas
The good news can, however, mask the complexities of the IT job market. The H-1B visa lottery, widely bruited as a way to bring in tech talent that can't be found domestically, has sometimes been used instead to displace existing American workers with cheaper counterparts. Some companies even go so far as to have current workers train their own replacements before being let go. Disney and South California Edison were recently fingered as two outfits engaging in such behavior.
Furor over this kind of abuse of the H-1B system could torpedo a proposal to raise the H-1B cap from 65,000 to 195,000. That latter number amounts to 71 percent of the total number of IT hires recorded for 2014, according to Janco.
There's little debate that certain areas in the economy lack for skilled tech workers, and that the H-1B lottery serves a valuable function. But right now there's no easy solution to prevent gaming the system under the pretext of expanding the available pool of tech talent.