Headhunting for skilled workers overseas gains popularity

150 150 Cheryl Getuiza

Photo credit: Danny Choo via Flickr

Slowly, many regions throughout California are crawling out of the deep pit they sunk to due to the recession. In fact, many areas are seeing the number of available jobs increase.

The bad news—many regions can’t find enough skilled workers to fill those jobs. 

It was an important topic discussed at the first California Economic Summit in May. Leading up to the Summit, 14 regional economic forums were held. What did we learn? A sizeable 43 percent say having a skilled workforce trained for major industry sectors is crucial for the future.

In the Bay Area, where tech jobs outnumber other industries, finding skilled workers is crucial and companies are increasingly searching overseas.

According to a new report released by the Brookings Institution, the Bay Area comes in second in recruiting high skilled workers from abroad. 

“There are some really interesting findings, but we’ve known this for some time—there’s a lack of skilled workers in the technology industry “ said Sean Randolph, president of the Bay Area Council Economic Institute, just back from Washington, D.C. for the release of the report.

Every February, the cycle to obtain foreign workers, begins. Almost immediately, Randolph points out, the Bay Area reaches the quota. “Within 10 days or two weeks of opening, the quota is met,” said Randolph. “So companies who didn’t make the process have to wait until next year.”

The report says the Silicon Valley comes out on top in “H-1B intensity” with 17 foreign workers sought for every 1,000 people in the workforce.

Computer related fields have the most overseas workers at 60 percent. Engineers come in a close second.

With these recent findings, it brings the debate to light—are foreign workers taking jobs away from the unemployed in California?  Maybe. That’s why many in the business field believe educating our workforce better is vital to our economy.

“California and the Bay Area are not generating or graduating enough students with degrees in those fields to fill the needs,” said Randolph. “Forty percent of all students in the country begin their degrees in those math and sciences but move to a different degree because it’s easier.”

If we make education a priority, Randolph added, we would fix the “underperformance compared to global standards by students across the board in math and science.”  

Here’s another interesting finding of the report: it’s more than the big name companies like Google, eBay, Apple or Yahoo, looking overseas. Thousands of other local employers, big and small, are in the game too, looking to bring foreign workers to the Bay Area on temporary H-1B visas.

“Most applications for visas are for single positions,” said Randolph. “Those are coming from smaller companies, young companies —maybe 150 employees, who are growing really rapidly. They’re looking anywhere and everywhere to fill those tech jobs. Not filling those positions is a constraint on their ability to grow.”

Those who attended the Summit agreed finding a skilled workforce and fixing our state’s educational system would help prepare our workforce for those available jobs and allow us to stay competitive with our global counterparts.


Cheryl Getuiza

All stories by: Cheryl Getuiza