In an economy marked by conflicting indicators, technology companies are looking to hire more employees over the next year, but worry that there will not be enough qualified candidates to fill the vacancies, according to a new survey from the trade group Technology Councils of North America.
TECNA's poll of more than 1,700 technology executives highlighted the contrasting views of the business climate that have marked the shaky economic recovery. Broadly gauging sentiment about the overall business conditions today, the survey reported a score of 56.4 on a 100-point scale, up from 46.3 a year ago. At the same time, respondents cited a lack of confidence and economic paralysis as the biggest impediments to business activity.
"Mixed economic messages have been the pattern for several years now. A few indicators will show positive improvement, while a few will show weakness," says Bob Moore, TECNA's executive director.
"Consequently," Moore adds, "it can be difficult to reconcile conflicting signals."
Where Are All the Tech Pros?
Amid that tepid optimism, tech leaders fret over shortfalls in the talent pool that could stall their hiring plans. Sixty-three percent of respondents said that they intend to add staff in the next 12 months. That figure was even higher among executives at small and midsized business, segments in which more than 70 percent of respondents are looking to expand their workforce.
But 69 percent of the respondents bemoaned a "shortage in the quantity and quality" of workers with technology skills.
The results of the survey come as the latest argument advanced by tech sector groups in favor of policies to boost the labor force, including efforts to further education in the STEM subjects of science, technology, engineering and math, andreforms to the immigration system to bring in more skilled foreign workers.
Moore stresses his group's support for comprehensive immigration reform, "in particular the high-skilled aspects that increase H-1B visas for STEM workers."
"We strive for reform either as one large package or through piece-meal legislation that is put together down the road," he says, calling the current system "broken."
Would Immigration Reform Help?
Immigration reform appears stalled at the moment in Washington, however. The Senate has passed a comprehensive bill, but on Wednesday, House Speaker John Boehner said that he would not consider the legislation, saying that "we have no intention of ever going to conference on the Senate bill."
Though Boehner's comments dimmed the prospects for movement on the issue in the short term, Moore says he is hopeful that "they will quickly move forward early next year with immigration reform efforts."
Many tech trade groups and individual companies have been lobbying lawmakers in favor of efforts to expand the cap on H-1B visas for skilled foreign workers, but TECNA's survey revealed that many IT executives feel that their interests aren't adequately represented by the actions of the federal government. Forty-five percent of respondents deemed their representation poor or very poor, while 41 percent described it as "just OK."
Moore says that the regional tech councils that his group represents are a good way for individual firms to get involved in policy advocacy. Individually, those organizations lobby state governments. Federally, TECNA has partnered with CompTIA to set up TechVoice, an advocacy arm that lobbies on issues like tax credits for startup businesses and access to capital for SMBs, as well as immigration reform.
Moore calls that initiative "an important mechanism for regional tech councils and their member companies to effect change at the federal level," though he acknowledges that the tech sector needs to do more to advance its interests in Washington.
"The disconnect is a common issue in D.C. in that there is so much information and resources to consider and representatives come and go," Moore says. "We need to increasingly make our presence known."
Kenneth Corbin is a Washington, D.C.-based writer who covers government and regulatory issues for CIO.com. Follow Kenneth on Twitter @kecorb. Follow everything from CIO.com on Twitter @CIOonline, Facebook, Google + and LinkedIn.