Will tech industry take back its own?

Tech Culture

In a field famous for making products that quickly become obsolete, where do yesterday's techies fit now that the industry is rebounding?

The job hemorrhaging of recent years may be coming to a halt, according to a report Tuesday from the American Electronics Association. The trade group said the nation's high-tech industry shed 25,300 jobs in 2004, to 5.6 million. By comparison, 333,000 tech industry jobs were lost in 2003 and 612,000 in 2002, according to the AEA.

Fewer tech job losses is good news. Also promising is word that venture capital funds have been swelling during the past year and that venture capital investment in Silicon Valley last year.

But what will become of the hundreds of thousands of tech industry workers whose jobs were axed earlier this decade? Many of them no doubt were dilettantes, eager mostly to get in on dot-com riches. But it seems plenty of others were tech pros trying to stick it out in the field they prefer. The average number of unemployed workers in nine high-tech categories--including computer programmers, database administrators and computer hardware engineers--fell by 64,000 last year but remained close to 150,000, according to the U.S. Labor Department.

Certainly out-of-work techies bear some responsibility--to stay sharp and learn new skills, such as the business chops sought by tech services companies.

But even if these folks do all the right things, will they be able to find jobs when a growing amount of work is sent offshore and the H-1B visa program for skilled workers has been expanded?

At a time when the country's tech dominance is under fire, industry leaders defend the visas in part by arguing that access to global talent is key. But the question remains whether those industry leaders--and the country as a whole--are doing enough to help unemployed Americans demonstrate their talent. Whether through retraining or other programs, are domestic techies getting the assistance they need to get back in the game?

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