Faces of Globalization:Jobs for tech grads

By PHIL MAGERS, UPI Correspondent  |  May 6, 2004 at 3:46 PM
share with facebook
share with twitter

DALLAS, May 6 (UPI) -- Brad Pitman is confident he will find a high tech job when he graduates from college this spring despite the industry's downturn and the constant chatter about outsourcing.

"It's the students that haven't made an attempt to specialize or highlight themselves in any form or fashion that are going to have trouble finding a job," said the confident senior at the University of Texas at Arlington.

The 38-year-old Weatherford, Texas, student walked away from a dead-end job at the U.S. Postal Service to pursue his "passion" and he has no regrets. He's focused on a specialty in computer science and already has had three preliminary interviews for jobs.

Pitman's interest in autonomous robot vehicles like the remote-controlled Raptor aircraft has won him the interviews, mostly with defense contractors. His training would help make aircraft like the Raptor more capable of independently solving selected problems.

Pitman thinks computer science students who focus on a specialty have a better chance of getting a job today as high tech companies continue to lay off U.S. workers and thousand of other jobs are sent overseas in the global economy.

"A lot of people come into the computer science department and they think just because they are getting a degree in computer science or software engineering that they are going to be entitled to a job post-graduation and that's not the truth," he said.

Pitman said students have to really work for it today and he said most of the students he knows in the UTA program are doing that. And because of their hard work they will have jobs when they graduate, despite the doom and gloom talk.

Enrollment in computer science bachelor degree programs plunged 19 percent in 2003, according to a survey compiled by the Computing Research Association, a group of more than 200 North American universities and laboratories involved in computer education or research.

The number of new undergraduates majoring in the field dropped 23 percent to 17,706. In the previous three years, the number of undergraduates with computer science majors had remained about constant. In the late 1990'S the number had more than doubled when interest peaked.

The major reason for the decline in interest was the slowdown in the high tech industry, the survey found. There was also the highly publicized outsourcing of jobs, with thousands of computer related jobs going overseas to countries like India.

"This was not lost to prospective students and their parents who were previously looking into the IT sector as an easy entry into the job market," said Stu Zweben, chairman of the Computer and Information Science program at Ohio State University and coordinator for the CRA survey.

In North Texas's Telecom Corridor the slowdown was very personal to thousands of high-tech workers who lost their jobs and may even have affected plans of their children to follow in their footsteps, said the head of University of Texas at Dallas's program.

"If you look at kids graduating from high school, whose parents work in high tech, they see the downturn and rightfully ask the question why would I want to go into this field at this time when it's not clear what job growth will be," said Bob Helms, dean of UTD's Erik Jonsson School of Engineering and Computer Science.

In the late 1990's companies offered bonuses and stock options to lure the best and the brightest to their staffs and universities couldn't turn out enough computer science graduates, Zweben said.

Outsourcing contributes to today's soft job market, but off shoring is not new to the IT sector or other industries, Zweben said. He said outsourced jobs are usually those where the cost of labor is the critical factor. The more demanding jobs stay in the United States.

"The more creative things, to solve problems for new customers, problems where you really have to interface with the customer to understand their needs, these are the kinds of things our graduates are also being trained to do and these are the kinds of jobs that are not going to be off-shored," he said.

Helms, a former semiconductor manufacturing executive, said the news media has blown the impact of outsourcing out of proportion but the perception probably does impact the thinking of students considering a career in computer science.

"If you look carefully at the numbers in terms of the kind of jobs and the numbers, it's a small factor, but to the extent it gets overplayed that certainly weighs on the minds on the 18-, 19-, 22- year-olds we have coming into UTD," said the former president of International SEMATECH, an Austin-based consortium of semiconductor manufacturers.

Although the gloom surrounds U.S. jobs going overseas there is a different twist in the Telecom Corridor because many of the high tech manufacturers are foreign-owned, such as Ericsson, Alcatel, Nortel, and Fujitsu, noted a leading Texas economist.

In other words, they are outsourcing jobs to the United States, said Dr. Bernard Weinstein, director of the University of North Texas Center for Economic Development. He emphasizes again that offshoring is nothing new in a global economy.

"While we're talking right now about the loss of IT jobs, Toyota is talking about building a new plant in San Antonio," he said.

Construction is scheduled to begin later this year on a $800 million Toyota plant that will produce 150,000 Tundra trucks each year. Once operational in 2006, it will employ 2,000 people and generate a $100 million annual payroll.

And there's even "daylight" in the Telecom Corridor, reports Ron Robinson, president and chief executive officer of the Metroplex Technology Business Council. At a recent breakfast meeting, 11 of 14 corridor executives said they see a turnaround coming, he said.

Zweben also said new Bureau of Labor Statistics data indicates universities again may not be able to produce enough computer science graduates in coming years. Software engineering jobs will be among the 10 fastest growing occupations through 2012 and nine of those 10 hot job prospects will be computer or health related, the bureau forecasts.

"We shouldn't be surprised that offshoring is occurring," he said. "It's just a matter of 'what is the extent of it going be and is it going to mean that there really aren't jobs available' and I think no, there are going to be jobs. Computing is too important to business and commerce in general."

Faces of Globalization -- The above piece by UPI correspondent Phil Magers is part eight of a half-year series by United Press International which focuses each week on the human face of globalization in locales ranging from India to the heartland of the United States. The series looks at the complex array of social and economic issues facing workers, managers, students and others, who have been affected by the growing worldwide investment, trade and technological interconnections that have come to be known as globalization.

Series edited by T.K.Maloy, UPI Deputy Business Editor. (tmaloy@upi.com)

Related UPI Stories
Trending Stories