Brad Smith, Microsoft general counsel

How’s this for a creative twist? Microsoft today suggested that the federal government let employers, including itself, pay higher fees to bring more foreign workers to the U.S. — using the proceeds to educate more homegrown engineers, with the ultimate goal of solving the country’s tech talent crunch in the long run.

The company says the plan could produce up to $500 million annually to help fund U.S. education in science, technology, education and math, while helping companies in the short run by letting them bring in more workers from overseas.

“Ultimately, we can’t expect to build the economy of the future with only the jobs of the past,” says Brad Smith, Microsoft’s general counsel, in a blog post. “We must prepare the next generation for the waves of technological innovation that are on the horizon in every field.”

On the heels of Microsoft’s announcement last week of  its new YouthSpark initiative, the company Wednesday released a 30-page whitepaper document titled “National Talent Strategy,” that outlines ideas and solutions to help secure U.S. competitiveness and economic growth in a field that Americans pioneered.

Even as unemployment rates hover around 8 percent, the U.S. government estimates that there are still 3.7 million open jobs in U.S. economy. Many of those open spots require STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) skills, but tech companies including Microsoft say they have trouble finding qualified workers.

Microsoft says it has more than 6,000 open jobs around the U.S. — including 3,400 for researchers, developers and engineers.

The big takeaway from the document is that Microsoft wants to pair long-term improvements in STEM education in the U.S. with “targeted, short-term, high-skilled immigration reforms.” Microsoft recommends that employers pay $10,000 per worker to bring employees in under visas through the new program, and $15,000 to reduce a backlog of green card applications.

“Put together, this approach can create a more effective national talent strategy to keep jobs in the U.S. by providing a supply of skilled employees who can fill these jobs here, both now and in the future,” the document reads.

The Challenge and The Consequences

The first half of the document explores the challenges and consequences of educating enough STEM-skills Americans. One staggering statistic is that only 4 percent of 2008 bachelor degrees were awarded in engineering in the U.S. in comparison to 19 percent for Asia and 31 percent in China.

Microsoft notes that only 439 students in Washington state took the Advanced Placement (AP) computer science exam, “which in itself is a serious problem.” Only 12 of those students were Hispanic-American, four were African-American and just 99 were female.

“Any solution must include a clear focus on strategies that better encourage and support minority populations and young women to pursue careers in science and engineering,” the document reads.

A National Talent Strategy

Studies show that between 2010 and 2020, the U.S. economy will produce more than 120,000 computing jobs per year requiring a bachelor’s degree. Yet currently, the country has just 40,000 computer science grads annually.

So how does the country produce more talent? In part two of the document, Microsoft identified two areas that address the threats to U.S. employment and economic competitiveness.

  1. A national “Race to the Future” initiative that creates a more effective STEM pipeline of skilled workers to meet the workforce needs.   This requires public-private partnerships and collaboration across all levels of government. Microsoft calls for federal funding for states to strengthen K-12 STEM education, broaden access to computer science in high school and also help college students finish faster and expand higher education capacity to produce more STEM degrees that many 21st century jobs require.
  2. Microsoft wants to bridge the gap with high-skilled immigration reform to help attract the world’s best minds into the U.S. economy. “There needs to be a path for the best and the brightest innovators in the world to participate in growing U.S. businesses, creating new jobs and strengths our economy,” Microsoft says.
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  • Pete

    No more H1-B’s. They contribute NOTHING to the area and have ruined Redmond.Most of the money they do make, goes back to India.

    • guest

      Blanket generalizations reflect poorly on you, not them. Obviously the companies hiring them believe they contribute quite a bit. And why wouldn’t some H1-B’s send money home? Many come from impoverished countries where that money can help their families greatly. They’re being brought to the US so companies can exploit their skills, not so their disposable income can benefit the local economy.

      • watcher

        You are so wrong and missing the brain drain issue that the US is allowing to happen. Microsoft and other co-criminal Corporations ought to be prosecuted for not hiring US worker and by-passing them because they can ship their jobs to India for 1/10th of the cost of hiring Americans. Microsoft is committing what surmount to national treason by using an Indian corporation who are incorporated here for the sole purpose of trafficking Indian worker who violate our Visa Laws and render our US Citizen unemployable and on welfare row.
        Microsoft has approximately 87,000 fulltime employees and 78,000 so called “Contingent Staffing” who are 80% Indian in Redmond WA and in India. I work for Microsoft thru and Indian Vendor and I can see the US IT Jobs erosion and will be dedication all my free time to help restoring these jobs.

  • FraudMeister

    I worked for a local company that actively committed H1-B visa fraud to bring in more overseas labor. The company purposely overlooked qualified developers and hired non-essential finance and bizdev we could have easily hired locally. My Indian co-workers would come up with all sorts of excuses on why they had to recruit H1-B visa workers and often hooked up their friends that were in danger of losing their status here. It was completely disgusting the fraud that went on and how easy it was to commit.

  • SmartExPat

    Pete, are you telling the Mc Donalds, Nike businesses in India or other countries just take their money and send it back to the US? Have you seen the housing market lately? Have you seen the local caliber of schools lately? Have you been noticing who’s driving the local economy and who’s at the helm of Microsoft? It’s smart people…and encouraging diversity and smart people is beyond being a xenophobic. You are just jealous because you don’t have what it takes to compete and people smarter than you are taking your job. You can now get back to your job at jiffy lube…and change that tire properly this time.

  • guest

    It’s too bad that Brad apparently put more effort into this cannon fodder exercise than making sure the company was meeting its legal commitments here and abroad, thereby negating the upcoming EU penalty which could end up costing shareholders $7 billion and was entirely avoidable had MS’s senior manaement and counsel been paying any attenton whatsoever.

    • guest

      Yeah, it’s sorta funny having the guy who couldn’t keep track of one very obvious and important detail, and who works for a company’s whose declining competitiveness over the past decade is a daily news topic, suggest he has a plan to fix America’s competitiveness and the tech skills shortage. Maybe the real talent shortage isn’t a lack of skilled engineers but rather senior executives?

  • Guest

    It takes balls to go out and make the argument that we have to hire more foreign workers so that we can hire more US workers. That’s right up there with “to save a village you have to burn it”.

    But this is Brad Smith and I’ve found every pronouncement he’s made about “investing in our future” to be canned, scripted and not believable. His Seattle Times Op-Ed ( pretending to show concern about Washington Students is striking for the fact that they didn’t do anything about that topic other than…..get the Times to post a ghost-written op ed piece.

    Beyond the fact that I think this is another sham to make it look like they care about the local economy while actually shipping jobs abroad (or giving them to those from abroad) I find the idea of big business and big government “working together” to help “shape our students of the future” a frightening prospect. You can bet that neither of those are really concerned about the education system producing creative, free-thinking individuals. They’re colluding to create an ever more pliable system of worker-drones.

    Does education need to be improved? Yes. But let’s let the teachers and the parents drive that and not big business.

    After all, last time I checked: Bill Gates didn’t graduate from Harvard and Ballmer did. What does that tell you?

    • guest

      So that’s your solution to the problem? Let teachers and parents drive it? I’ll take their imperfect plan over your non-existent one.

  • Fubar

    How about investing in some unemployed American mid-career developers? There are plenty of capable American engineers and scientists that do not have CS backgrounds in the US. How about some help for them? We have an unemployment crisis in the US. How about if we help our own first?

  • Mark

    OMG the hubris! MS has been getting its butt kicked by Apple and Google for a decade. Apple is now twice as large and twice as valuable, while Google is days away from being next to pass them on valuation. Both are disrupting and destroying MS’s core businesses while MS’s various forays against theirs have been epic failures. Most people looking at the future are debating whether it’s going to be dominated by Apple or Google. MS isn’t even part of the dialog. And Brad wants to fix the country’s competitiveness? Brad, fix your own first.

  • Laura Bangerter

    If they really wanted to build up the talent here, they would train their employees themselves and create an apprenticeship program. Apprenticeship programs make much more sense cost-wise, and skill-wise in training employees than generic expensive university training.

  • Jon

    It’s great that Microsoft has money to burn, but I would ask them not to raise taxes on everyone else just because they have trouble hiring and retaining people to work on their aging software base. It still really does not take that much more than initiative and an internet connection (and luck, given all the competition out there) to get going in the software industry, in spite of Microsoft and Apple’s best efforts in that vein. If they need more specific skills, they can hire people and train them, then pay them enough and treat then well enough that they stick around.

  • Bob

    After we get MS’s advice on increasing our competitiveness, maybe we can Dina Lohan’s thoughts on raising our youth to be more responsible adults.

  • JJD

    I don’t think this country has a tech talent problem but a Management and HR problem. It could increase overnight the output of its engineers, I would say ten-fold, with different management and HR policies.

  • guest232

    Such a stupid suggestion from like of MS. huh! Is it to say that its matter of 500m per annum that country needs to solve the problem? And even if it did, govt does not have money to fund that and visa fees has to be increased? Mr Gates shd have volunteered to give out that money to build the talent pool.

  • Wolfgang

    I have dual EE/CS degrees and have applied to Microsoft on numerous occasions, not even to receive the courtesy of a response, nevermind an evaluation of my skills. Microsoft obviously isn’t looking for domestic talent if they’re not even bothering to consider applications such as mine. Which is no surprise; >90% of STEM graduates in the United States are US citizens, yet Microsoft’s campus in Redmond increasingly looks more foreign by the day. Shame on Microsoft for claiming any shortage of talent when the resume queues are chock full of applications from bright students and graduates looking for jobs!

  • DaveHolden

    So, after ruining the lives of a generation, they decide to try to walk back their treasonous stance with some empty rhetoric? Why would that be…..always look for the AGENDA. And here it is….

    “This requires public-private partnerships….”

    Strange, they weren’t needed BEFORE they CREATED the problem. When you see “public-private” partnerships you are looking at an agenda to turn Americans in to serfs. EVERY time. Mark my words.

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