Amazon was back in our local headlines this week with the posting of its first round of official job openings for its second headquarters in Arlington.

The handful of positions — five to be exact, each for multiple hires — are in human resources, finance, corporate procurement and facilities. The company says it will hire at least 400 people for their operations in Virginia by the end of the year.

With an already massive shortage in the tech workforce in our region, what will Amazon’s arrival mean for employers trying to fill high-skilled positions in the commercial tech industry and for federal contractors? And what does the future landscape of Washington’s specialized, tech labor force look like?

Produced by Monna Kashfi

Guests

  • Jason Miller Chief Executive Officer, the Greater Washington Partnership; @GW_Partnership
  • Evan Lesser Founder and President, ClearanceJobs.com; @morerlesser
  • Deborah Crawford Vice President for Research, Innovation and Economic Impact, George Mason University; @MasonResearch
  • Stuart Anderson Executive Director, National Foundation for American Policy; @NFAPResearch

Transcript

  • 12:22:15

    KOJO NNAMDIWelcome back. Amazon was back in our local headlines this week with the posting of its first round of official job openings for its HQ2 in Arlington. The handful of positions -- five, to be exact, each for multiple hires -- are in human resources, finance, corporate procurement and facilities. And the company says it's ahead of schedule, with a predicted launch date for its operations in Virginia coming in June rather than this fall.

  • 12:22:40

    KOJO NNAMDIBut there's been a great deal of buzz about the 25,000 jobs Amazon has pledged to bring to National Landing over the next decade. But who's going to fill those positions? We've already got a shortage in the tech workforce in this region. So, joining me in studio is Jason Miller. He is CEO at Greater Washington Partnership. Jason, thank you for joining us.

  • 12:22:58

    JASON MILLERThank you for having me.

  • 12:23:01

    NNAMDIWhy is there a tech talent shortage in this region? What can you tell us about the current landscape for tech workforce in our area?

  • 12:23:07

    MILLERSure. I think, you know, first, it's important to think about where we are and where we've been. So, if you look at the economy since the great recession, we've been a relatively slow-growth economy. Compared to other major metropolitan areas in the United States, we've been growing about half the rate, just a little bit faster than 1 percent.

  • 12:23:23

    MILLERWhen you look at the tech talent workforce, we have a significant tech talent workforce today. So, we're the third largest tech talent workforce in the country, behind only New York and the Bay Area. On a density standpoint, per capita, we're number two, behind only the Bay Area. And when you look at the production of new tech talent, we're number one, coming out of our community colleges and universities. That shortage, that challenge, it's real, but it's also a national challenge.

  • 12:23:50

    MILLERIf you look at the potential impact, here, we have two dynamics. The first is on our ability to compete with other regions, from a retention of people here and an attraction to bring people here. Amazon being here will immediately up our game on that impact. That is something that employers in our region have been struggling with. The second is increasing that pipeline. And while we're already number one, we know we need to do more. We know universities, community colleges, the K-12 system need to do more. One thing that we've done is bring together major universities in the region, the 12 largest in Maryland, Virginia and the District, to really focus on the digital tech skills that employers across all industries and across all job types need today.

  • 12:24:33

    NNAMDIWhat do you think the arrival of Amazon, what do you think the biggest impact of it will be as far as the competition for tech talent in our region?

  • 12:24:40

    MILLERYeah, look. I think if you look at our organization, we're made up of the largest employers in the region. And we've been a huge supporter of Amazon entering the region, because it can accelerate our growth, diversify the economy. And for big employers, for all employers, it's about upping our talent capabilities, overall. Yes, it puts more onus on our educational workforce system to do even more than we're doing today, but it ups our game. And I think we need to think about it as competition, not just within the region, but between our region and other parts of the country, and, frankly, the entire world.

  • 12:25:16

    NNAMDIAlso in studio with us is Evan Lesser, founder and president of ClearanceJobs.com. Evan Lesser, thank you for joining us.

  • 12:25:24

    EVAN LESSERThank you. Good to talk with you.

  • 12:25:25

    NNAMDIMuch of the competition for tech talent in our region focuses on individuals with military service experience and people with security clearances. But these individuals are becoming almost as rare as unicorns. Why are they in such short supply?

  • 12:25:40

    LESSERYeah, that's correct. I think it really started around 2013, and, you know, interestingly, this is all kind of a fallout from Edward Snowden. Post-Edward Snowden, lawmakers asked: how could this insider obtain so much classified information and do so much damage? So, the kind of semi-kneejerk reaction was to start to cull the cleared workforce. So, in 2013, there were over 5 million individuals with security clearance.

  • 12:26:08

    LESSERNow, years later, we're down to about 3.3 million. That's about a 30 percent-plus drop over the last five-and-a-half years. And if you think of any workforce, anywhere in the world, if you reduced it by 30-plus percent, you'd kind of be in a really tough position. But for the security-cleared workforce, you're talking about national security. So, Amazon coming to town is surely great for the region, but maybe not so great for the security-cleared workforce, because a lot of those people are expected to kind of jump ship and go from having a national security job that requires clearance, to letting their clearances lapse and go to work for a fairly attractive employer like Amazon.

  • 12:26:48

    NNAMDIThere's also a drastic backlog in the processing time for security clearances. How long of a backlog are we talking about?

  • 12:26:55

    LESSERSo, at present time, the government has around 500,000 people that are awaiting security clearance. And that is actually down from some record highs. The other main issue is, you can't just pull someone off the street and obtain a security clearance for them. So, it's currently taking over 400 days for top secret clearance final, and over 200 days for secret clearance. So, it kind of exacerbates the issue of the cleared workforce being small and getting smaller amid increasing demand, because you have to use the existing pool. You can't just, all of a sudden, bring in new people and obtain a clearance for them in any realistic timeframe.

  • 12:27:35

    NNAMDISo, what does that mean for employers who need talent with clearances, including in national security?

  • 12:27:41

    LESSERWell, what it means is that there's a huge amount of people leaving one job to go to the other. In fact, on the clearance jobs website, we recently did a candidate survey and found out that about 85 percent of cleared workers are expecting to change employers in the next 12 months. So, think about any company where you've got some really highly skilled tech workers with fairly high-level clearance. It's hard enough to attract them and bring them into your company, but then it's actually fairly difficult to retain them, because you've got them being poached by other employers within the defense intelligence and homeland security space, but now with Amazon, as well, trying to pull that highly skilled workforce.

  • 12:28:21

    NNAMDIAmazon is expected to be a contender for large-scale defense and government IT services contracts, especially for the services they can provide in cloud computing and cybersecurity. What are your predictions for how Amazon's arrival on this scene will affect the tech labor force?

  • 12:28:36

    LESSERWell, as far as the government space goes, you do have to have a bit of a separation between their government services groups and kind of the retail services group. So, the folks that are coming into Crystal City are primarily that retail business part of things. Amazon Web Services has a fairly large office out in the Herndon area, and that's, you know, pretty much all cleared and directly government, you know, cloud computing solutions.

  • 12:29:05

    LESSERSo, the fact that Amazon is coming to Crystal City, those are going to be uncleared positions, and that's the worry for a lot of people in this workforce, is that they're going to be able to attract cleared workers who are willing to say, you know what, I'm going to let my clearance lapse. I'm going to go ahead and work for Amazon in this uncleared position, because it's quite attractive.

  • 12:29:25

    NNAMDIHave any solutions been proposed for clearing the backlog or making the system more efficient? Any hope in sight?

  • 12:29:31

    LESSERWell, clearance reform has been at the top of lawmakers' and industries' minds for years and years and years. And a few years ago, they actually created a separate bureau that was, essentially, you know, required to do all the investigations. And the reason they created that bureau is because, at the time, the Department of Defense was having trouble getting people cleared in a, you know, good amount of time. So, they created the new bureau. They handed it over to the OPM. And now, within the last week, you may have seen in the news that all of the clearance investigations are going back to the Department of Defense.

  • 12:30:07

    LESSERSo, it keeps going back and forth with different agencies saying, we can do it better, we can do it faster. And it kind of ebbs and flows. Unfortunately, I think the verdict is still kind of out as to whether the DOD can do a better job in, you know, modern times, as far as clearance investigations goes. There's also, Kojo, a big balance between quantity of people heading through the system and quality. And that is something else that kind of seesaws back and forth.

  • 12:30:35

    LESSERBack when Edward Snowden was an issue, people were getting clearances, actually, pretty quickly. It was going through very quickly. But what they found out is that some of the quality of the investigations was not up to par. So, while the quantity was good, the quality was not. And there's definitely a tricky balance that the government has to play between how do you get as many people through the system as possible to obtain their clearance, but also make sure those investigations and background checks are strong.

  • 12:31:02

    NNAMDIAlso joining us in studio is Stuart Anderson, executive director of the National Foundation for American Policy. Stuart, thank you for joining us.

  • 12:31:09

    STUART ANDERSONThank you.

  • 12:31:10

    NNAMDIAnother piece of the tech workforce puzzle is foreign talent working here in the United States with an H1B visa. Let's start with the basics. What is an H1B visa?

  • 12:31:20

    ANDERSONAn H1B visa is a temporary visa, generally for three to six years. And the reason it's so important is it's often the only practical way for a company like Amazon or almost any company in the United States to hire a high-skilled foreign national, including international students off campuses. What you find today is when companies go to recruit, only about 20 percent of the graduate students who are fulltime in computer science or electrical engineering are U.S. students. So, when companies recruit, what they're finding is many of the potential hires are actually foreign nationals and they need a visa.

  • 12:31:59

    NNAMDIHow many H1B visas are made available annually and what is the demand for them like?

  • 12:32:05

    ANDERSONWell, every year, there's 85,000 that companies can use. And for about the past 16 years, the supply of them has been exhausted. And we just had another case in April to where, well, more than 200,000 visas were requested, but the government could only give out 85,000.

  • 12:32:29

    NNAMDIWhat sector are these visas usually granted in, and what are the requirements for applicants?

  • 12:32:34

    ANDERSONWell, they're primarily going in the tech fields, but actually, they go into almost any field, as long as the person has at least an undergraduate degree. But you actually find that almost two-thirds now of the visas that are handed out are going to people with a graduate degree or higher.

  • 12:32:54

    NNAMDIYou recently conducted a study, examining denial rates for H1B visas. What did you find?

  • 12:33:00

    ANDERSONWell, what we found is that even though there's been no new law or even regulations that have gone into effect, just from direction from the new leadership since the Trump Administration has come into office, we found that the denial rates for new H1B visas went from about 6 percent in 2015 to actually up to 32 percent for the first quarter of 2019. And companies are finding it very difficult even for existing employees when they try to extend them. They're finding that denial rates have really more than quadrupled in just the past few years. And that means that some people who have been here a very long time are actually having to potentially leave the country.

  • 12:33:46

    NNAMDIWhat does the data show about the companies that are top employers of the H1B visa? Are the increased denials across the board, or affecting only certain companies?

  • 12:33:57

    ANDERSONWell, initially, the data showed that the biggest impacts are on IT services companies, but the biggest employers overall are Amazon, Microsoft, many of the big tech companies. And they're even finding denial rates of getting close to 20 percent for existing employees. And what happens is a lot of the people, once they start on H1B, eventually will get a green card. And we found that actually more than half of the billion-dollar startups that have been created in the United States have at least one immigrant founder.

  • 12:34:33

    ANDERSONSo, the person that may come in today and works at Amazon may eventually leave and go start one of the companies. And we mentioned cybersecurity. Two of the top cybersecurity companies that are billion dollar companies, Cybereason and CrowdStrike, actually were created by immigrants.

  • 12:34:53

    NNAMDIHow are tech companies like Amazon being affected by this increase in denials, especially if we already have a shortage in the qualified tech workforce, domestically?

  • 12:35:02

    ANDERSONWell, what they're finding is that particularly when they try to take an existing employee and try to extend that person -- or someone who's already working for an H1B for someone else -- they're finding their denial rate is actually getting close to 20 percent. And that's a big problem for them. It makes it harder for them to keep more jobs actually in the United States. What ends up happening -- not necessarily for Amazon, per se, but for companies, in general -- if they can't get someone, but they need them, they may end up placing the person in a foreign country. And then more jobs and resources go there. And we've seen many more companies putting people in Canada now, because it's a lot easier.

  • 12:35:45

    NNAMDIHere's Adam in Washington, DC. Adam, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 12:35:48

    ADAMHi. Thanks for taking my call. I had two comments that may be questions for the guests you have on the show. I think a large issue with finding tech workers who have these security clearances is that, one, the government just doesn't pay as much as these tech companies. So I don't know if there's anything that can be done to really change that, because I know the government pay scales are pretty standard.

  • 12:36:14

    ADAMAnd my second thought is that the government just doesn't have the same sort of appeal in culture of innovation of cutting edge technology as a lot of the tech companies. And I know that there's a lot of security issues around that. But I'm just wondering if there's anything on that maybe the government or some of the federal contractors can do to have more of a culture that attracts these tech workers. Thank you.

  • 12:36:39

    NNAMDIEvan Lesser?

  • 12:36:40

    LESSERYeah, those are two great questions, and I think to address the first part of the question was about pay. The government has a policy where they will traditionally, if they have three or four companies bidding for a certain project or service, they'll go with the least expensive one, which in turn, translates into lower pay for workers. And that's a policy that's been around for a little while, and it's pretty controversial. The question that pops up is, do you want to, you know, kind of cut costs or do you want the best talent possible? So, that's definitely a concern.

  • 12:37:15

    LESSERAnd, these days, someone with a security clearance can't necessarily command the premiums that they could maybe a decade ago in this marketplace. So, working for a non-cleared company these days is actually quite attractive, due to the pay discrepancy. And then the caller's second point was extremely valid and something, honestly, that government has not touched on much at all, and that is: how attractive is it these days to work for government or for a federal contracting company? And the answer is, it's not, especially for younger generations that are entering the workforce.

  • 12:37:52

    LESSERIf you kind of start with 2013 and move forward, you've got a whole list of things that have kind of soured people to working for the government. You've got new issues around privacy and security of data. You've got the OPM hack of 23 million records in the hands of the Chinese that really led to a lot of frustration and distrust. Kojo, as you mentioned, the long time it takes to obtain a clearance or to obtain a clearance reinvestigation. The recent government shutdown was no help at all in terms of attracting people to the government service.

  • 12:38:27

    LESSERSo, there's been a lot of things over the last number of years, but the government has not made any strides to create some manner of, you know, public relations campaign to tell people that, you know, working for government is good. It may satisfy national security aspects. You know, there's a patriotic element to it. We just really haven't seen that post-911, and it's only gotten worse over the past few years.

  • 12:38:51

    NNAMDIJason Miller, federal contractors and defense contractors are a cornerstone of the DC job market, and they've had to compete with employers in the commercial tech sector for many years. But what kind of challenges is Amazon's arrival going to create for these companies, in particular?

  • 12:39:05

    MILLERSure. So, I think, look, in terms of tech talent, I think there's two ways to frame it, right. There's one which is there are people requiring very specific tech skills, AI machine learning, cyber security, certain kinds of software programming, engineering, etcetera. Then there is the changing skillsets across companies. So, whether it's a defense contractor or not, the digital technology is influencing job skills broadly. And I think that is an important piece to add to this.

  • 12:39:38

    MILLERWhen you think about defense contractors and the federal government, part of what they create within this region is a set of unique capabilities, and part of why this region was attractive to Amazon as a place, is that big tech workforce and those unique set of capabilities. Proximity in that eco system can actually raise the bar for all. But, you know, as we've been talking, there are clear pressure points that we need to address in the system.

  • 12:40:05

    MILLERFor, you know, the Capital CoLAB, which I talked about, this partnership between universities and businesses, there are a number of big defense contractors that are part of that. And a bunch of, you know, companies in other tech spaces, as well as non-tech spaces that are trying to say, look, what we actually need to do is identify a common set of skill needs for digital expertise and for digital proficiency. And if we do that, it will be easier to scale up programs in the entire educational system to meet these needs.

  • 12:40:35

    NNAMDIAnd we'll be talking about that after the break. But just before we go to break, Stuart, we should know that foreign workers on an H1B visa cannot get security clearance, other than under some very special circumstances. They get limited access. And some speculate that this was a big factor in Amazon choosing Northern Virginia, in particular, because of the concentration of tech talent with security clearances. Care to comment?

  • 12:41:00

    ANDERSONWell, that's correct. I mean, an H1B visa holder's a foreign national, so they're not going to be able to get a security clearance. If Amazon is hiring them, they're hiring them to do non-security-type work.

  • 12:41:13

    NNAMDIGot to take a short break. When we come back, we'll continue this conversation. We heard from Delray 2019 by email who says: there's no shortage. You have tons of folks with very, very current skills, but they may be over 40. So, that means they're either dead or incapable of doing a tech job in 2019, but a recent community college or four-year college does. Yeah, right. We're going to take a short break. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.

  • 12:42:19

    NNAMDIWelcome back. We're discussing Amazon's likely impact on the high-tech workforce in this region. Amazon posted its first few job openings for HQ2 in what we know as Crystal City, soon to be known as National Landing, earlier this week. So, what are area institutions doing to meet the new demand that Amazon's 25,000 open positions will create over the next decade? With me in studio is Jason Miller, CEO of Greater Washington Partnership, Evan Lesser, founder and president of ClearanceJobs.com, Stuart Anderson, executive director of the National Foundation for American Policy. And joining us now is Deborah Crawford, vice president for research innovation and economic impact at George Mason University. Deborah, thank you for joining us.

  • 12:43:00

    DEBORAH CRAWFORDThank you for having me.

  • 12:43:01

    NNAMDIWhat do you see as the main effects we can expect from Amazon's arrival for the workforce here?

  • 12:43:06

    CRAWFORDAt Mason, we're very excited about Amazon's arrival in the context of, I think some of the remarks that Jason made earlier, the potential for diversifying the economy. Mason's a research university, and part of our mission is actually working with corporations in the region, and also creating new ventures, new tech ventures. And we're very excited about the possibilities that Amazon brings, particularly in the consumer market, attracting building companies that have a focus on the consumer marketplace, rather than the federal marketplace.

  • 12:43:45

    CRAWFORDAnd our students are also very excited about the employment opportunities that arise as a result. And we're seeing tremendous growth in enrollment in our tech programs at both the undergraduate and the graduate levels, doubling over the last five years. And we're projecting to continue on that path this next five years.

  • 12:44:07

    NNAMDI(overlapping) George Mason has announced some big plans for supplying the tech talent pipeline to Amazon. Tell us about some of the initiatives you have underway.

  • 12:44:16

    CRAWFORDSo, Mason is participating in the Commonwealth's Tech Talent Initiative. We have committed to double the number of students that we are producing with tech degrees at the undergraduate level. We have 5,000 students in our programs today, expect to double that to 10,000 by 2024. Similarly, in our graduate programs, for up-skilling our current working professionals, looking at offering a number of graduate programs, both online and hybrid programs that appeal to working professionals who want to up-skill their capabilities in tech. Which, of course, the rapid pace of change in technology demands sort of that constant attention. (sounds like)

  • 12:45:04

    NNAMDI(overlapping) Up-skilling and re-skilling.

  • 12:45:06

    CRAWFORDYes, indeed. (laugh)

  • 12:45:07

    NNAMDIWhat kind of students are you targeting?

  • 12:45:10

    CRAWFORDSo, Mason's programs include students from a range of backgrounds. Half of the students in our tech talent pipeline at the undergraduate level are actually community college transfer students, students who join us from Northern Virginia Community College and other community colleges in the region. So, we have a very diverse undergraduate population. The average age of an undergraduate at Mason trends a little higher than at other universities. Twenty-four to twenty-six years of age is where the majority of our undergraduate students are, because we have that large population of community college transfers.

  • 12:45:52

    NNAMDIYou have said that the shortage we currently face in the tech workforce will likely persist for another decade. Why is that, and what will the next decade look like as we play catch up?

  • 12:46:02

    CRAWFORDSo, I think the biggest challenge is just producing the number of new workers, new tech workers that employers need. And that's part of the reason that we focus both on community college transfer students, but also degree completers, working adults who may have taken some courses in higher education, but haven't completed their degrees. So, we are developing new programs to appeal to that population, just to try and meet employer needs.

  • 12:46:33

    NNAMDIJason Miller, you don't think that it'll take as much as 10 years, necessarily, to catch up, do you?

  • 12:46:38

    MILLERWell, look. I think we have a shortage, nationally. And one of the dynamics we've seen over the last five years is that our region's been losing share. So, the fastest unlock is by this becoming a more attractive place, both for the people that are here, so that we're not losing them to other places, and to bring people in. The other piece that I think is worth mentioning, and I think what Mason and other institutions across the region are trying to do around re-skilling and up-skilling is critical, is we need to be thinking about the entire pipeline.

  • 12:47:11

    MILLERSo, the university system only touches a portion of people stepping into the workforce. And while the universities are growing and trying to grow the amount of people with tech skills both from a degree standpoint and, more broadly, a foundational standpoint, we also need to be thinking about kids coming out of high school and the community colleges that aren't going into four-year programs. Community colleges in particular are very nimble, and can move quickly to address near-term needs.

  • 12:47:40

    MILLERSo, you know, we're going to have to take this on, but in many respects, I think this has catalyzed momentum within the region to accelerate efforts to increase investment. You're seeing that from the package that Virginia did. You're seeing programs like what we've created with the Capital CoLAB.

  • 12:47:57

    NNAMDI(overlapping) I was about to ask you about that. What is Capital CoLAB?

  • 12:48:00

    MILLERSo, the Capital CoLAB, it's a collaborative between major universities in Maryland, the District and Virginia, and major employers throughout the capital region, Baltimore to Richmond. And the focus is on driving the talent pipeline that will make us competitive, technology development and commercialization and changing the perception of our region to becoming one of the leading global innovation hubs.

  • 12:48:24

    MILLERThe first effort is really focused on these digital techniques. It is the biggest need for employers across all industries, and we've been creating digital tech credentials for people of any background. So, if you're getting a degree in humanities, making sure you have the digital proficiency you need to fill workforce in demand jobs. And if you have a specialist degree, making sure you're actually getting the skill sets that are evolving very rapidly, so you have the right digital expertise to be effective in the workplace.

  • 12:48:53

    NNAMDIOn to the phones again, here's Steven in Northern Virginia. Steven, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 12:48:58

    STEVENHello, Kojo. Thank you for taking my call. It's an honor to talk to you. And I just wanted to make a quick comment on the pace of security clearances. I was offered a federal position in December, 2015, contingent on a successful security clearance. And I'm still waiting for that security clearance to be finalized, so that's almost three-and-a-half years.

  • 12:49:21

    STEVENIn fact, my last contact with the agency that I was hoping to be employed with was a couple of weeks ago. And they want me to come back in to redo medicals, etcetera, because all of my medical documentation, all of the tests have timed out. So, with these kinds of inefficiencies in the hiring process, you're going to lose -- the government's going to lose even more quality people, because people are not going to wait around.

  • 12:49:46

    NNAMDI(overlapping) Evan Lesser, is Steven's an extreme case?

  • 12:49:50

    LESSERIt's maybe just slightly extreme, but when you look at the government's numbers, they report on the fastest 90 percent of cases. So, there's always that 10 percent of cases -- and those are the ones, typically, we hear about more vociferously -- that they've been waiting for three, four, however many years. And, honestly, the people who can wait around that long, my hats off to them.

  • 12:50:10

    LESSERBut they tend to get spooked. They tend to think that there's something in their background that's causing some delay. And, honestly, it's usually just they're sitting in a queue somewhere. It's usually not someone's background. Very few people actually get denied a security clearance who applied for one. But the caller's absolutely correct. They can take years upon years just to get into...

  • 12:50:31

    NNAMDI(overlapping) Steven, how have you been supporting yourself the last three years or so?

  • 12:50:35

    STEVENWell, they do tell you just to continue with your life, so I've been continuing working.

  • 12:50:40

    NNAMDIOh, okay.

  • 12:50:41

    STEVENAnd so I continue to work. And then if something ever comes up, and they say yes, you've now been cleared and you're now accepted, I'll have to think very hard about that decision when the time comes. If it comes.

  • 12:50:51

    NNAMDIThank you very much for your call. Here's Stephanie, in Baltimore, Maryland. Stephanie, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 12:50:59

    STEPHANIEHi. I've been doing recruiting in this area for 25 years for technology people. And one of the things that is a little bit, I think, misunderstood is that if you have an H1B, you can get a security clearance. You can just only get a public trust clearance. But there's a lot of jobs in HHS and at SSA who only require public trust clearance. So, there are an enormous number of people working on H1B for the federal government. They're just taken through contractors, large contracting organizations.

  • 12:51:34

    STEPHANIEAnd the folks that do have security clearances who are often ex-military DOD employees, they do still make a very high premium. The problem is that they're almost always employed through a contractor. They're not getting a government job. They're getting a contracting job, and they constantly have to change jobs, because the contract ends. So, they scramble to take another job as fast as they possibly can, almost annually.

  • 12:52:04

    NNAMDIOkay. Thank you very much for your call, and thank you for sharing that with us. Stuart, one of the reasons that the H1B visa has become so popular in the past three decades is because, as you mentioned earlier, the lack of American students studying subjects like computer science and engineering. You mentioned earlier that only 20 percent of the graduates right now are from the United States.

  • 12:52:26

    ANDERSONYeah, it's kind of amazing. In fact, really, what's created the demand that we're all talking about is back in 1990, when the immigration levels were set, and employment for employment visas, we didn't really have a worldwide web that existed. We didn't have smart phones. We didn't have ecommerce and, you know, you can name all of them. And that's created the demand, obviously, for domestic workers, and also for international workers that are filling the gaps.

  • 12:52:55

    ANDERSONSo, what I found is actually, from looking at the data, that if you look at the number of U.S. graduates in electrical engineering since 1995, on an annual basis, it actually hasn't even risen. For whatever reason, Americans are not going into electrical engineering, at least at the graduate level. Computer science, it's increased, but actually nowhere near to meet demand.

  • 12:53:17

    NNAMDIWe only have about a minute-and-a-half left, but, Deborah, what about costs? Getting a four-year degree or even certificate credentials at many schools in our area is not cheap. Are you taking any steps to provide access to people who traditionally have not been able to enter these fields because of the costs associated with acquiring the needed skills? I'll ask Jason to answer the same question after you're done.

  • 12:53:35

    CRAWFORDYes, indeed. In fact, one of the reasons that we work so closely with the Virginia community colleges is to do exactly that, to help students keep the cost of education low. We're also working very hard with our same partners to make sure that students don't take wasted credits, credits that they don't need to get their degree, if indeed being able to get through the system efficiently and cost effectively is a priority for them.

  • 12:54:04

    NNAMDICapital CoLAB?

  • 12:54:05

    MILLERYeah look, and there's no doubt that there's an access and a cost question. The other side of the equation is on the demand side. One thing that businesses are actively looking at is, let's assess every single job and identify the competencies and skills that are needed. There may be things that, today, we're saying you need a four-year degree for this, and that is a barrier to entry. But if you actually look at the skillsets and the competencies, there's other ways to get them without going through a four-year degree program. So, there's multiple ways to skin this onion.

  • 12:54:34

    NNAMDIJason Miller is CEO at the Greater Washington Partnership. Thank you for joining us.

  • 12:54:39

    MILLERThank you.

  • 12:54:40

    NNAMDIEvan Lesser's founder and president of ClearanceJobs.com. Evan, thank you for joining us.

  • 12:54:44

    LESSERGood to talk with you.

  • 12:54:45

    NNAMDIStuart Anderson is executive director of the National Foundation for American Policy. Stuart Anderson, thank you for joining us.

  • 12:54:51

    ANDERSONThank you.

  • 12:54:52

    NNAMDIAnd Deborah Crawford is vice president for research, innovation and economic impact at George Mason University. Deborah Crawford, thank you for joining us.

  • 12:55:00

    CRAWFORDThank you.

  • 12:55:01

    NNAMDIOur conversation about the tech workforce was produced by Monna Kashfi. Our interview with Will Sommer was produced by Ruth Tam. Coming up on tomorrow's Politics Hour, after a political standoff, Maryland made history with its new unanimously elected speaker of the house, Delegate Adrienne Jones, the first African American and the first woman to serve in that role. Maya Rockeymoore Cummings, chair of Maryland's Democratic Party, will be joining us in studio tomorrow to talk about that. Plus, we'll talk with Arlington County board member Erik Gutshall about the latest political news in Northern Virginia. That all starts tomorrow, at noon. Until then, thank you for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.

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