Panelists: Jobless IT workers should reinvent selves

Out-of-work IT workers in the U.S. upset about lower-cost H-1B and L-1 workers and offshore outsourcing firms wresting away their jobs should accept that highly skilled, cheap foreign labour is here to stay and instead broaden their own talents beyond programming acumen.

That was the message this week from panelists who spoke at Northboro, Mass.-based Brainstorm Group Inc.’s Nearshore & Offshore Outsourcing conference here.

“There’s certainly a feeling out there that [offshore programming is] a threat to American IT workers,” said Larry Gordon, vice-president of marketing at Cognizant Technology Solutions Corp., a Teaneck, N.J.-based custom software developer with offshore programming interests in India. Gordon spoke on a global sourcing panel moderated by Computerworld (U.S.).

“Programming is becoming commoditized. If you can do programming for US$20, US$25 an hour, why would you pay US$150 an hour?,” said Amit Govil, managing director and CEO at Sapient India in New Delhi.

H-1B visas allow skilled foreigners, many of them in the IT field, to work in the U.S. for up to six years. The number of H-1B visas issued is restricted by a quota set by Congress.

The L-1 visa program allows multinational companies to transfer overseas workers to the U.S. after they’ve been employed by the company for at least one year. There are no caps on the number of L-1 visas.

The growing unemployment of U.S. technologists “is a very serious problem,” said Kent Bauer, principal consultant at GRT Corp., a Stamford, Conn.-based data management consultant with operations in Russia.

Bauer suggested that American IT workers should consider “moving up the food chain” and working more closely with business units to help steer big projects like enterprise resource management and customer relationship management initiatives.

Govil agrees with Bauer that American technologists should act as a “bridge” between IT and the businesses they serve “by becoming planners and organizers” in charge of implementing “conceptual solutions,” he said.

Srinivas Raghavan, an engagement manager at American International Group Inc. for Troy, Mich.-based outsourcer Syntel Inc. says there are “huge opportunities” for U.S. IT workers to bundle their expertise in communications and integration skills.

Those skills, Raghavan said, could be used by a growing number of companies that are focusing on further integrating e-business and other types of applications throughout their organizations.