Earlier today, President Barack Obama took part in a Google+ Hangout. You might think this was a cheap campaign stunt. (And it kind of was!) But a serious technology employment question came up, and the President flubbed it.
Jennifer Weddel, from Fort Worth, Texas asked the President why H1B visas are being still being issued and extended when American technology workers are still out of work. She said her husband is a semiconductor engineer, who has been looking for a full-time job for three years.
The President expressed surprise at this, saying "there's a huge demand around the country for engineers," and that "what industry tells me that they don't have enough highly-skilled engineers." He then asked exactly what kind of engineer her husband was, and went on to state that "the word we're getting is that somebody in that kind of high tech field, that kind of engineer, should be able to find something right away."
Well, not exactly.
Not all tech jobs are created equal, even in engineering. And manufacturing jobs in technology are moving overseas, or going away altogether, just as surely as they are in other sectors. Moreover, the problem is, anecdotally at least, even harder for experienced workers like Weddel's spouse.
In fact, the Bay Citizen had a story about the struggles older engineers are having finding work just two days ago. (It also appeared in the Bay Area edition of the New York Times.) The story calls out the semiconductor industry in particular, pointing out that the "semiconductor sector, which used to be the lifeblood of the South Bay's economy, has lost 4,600 jobs since 2008." And that's just a local news story.
Moreover, this isn't a new thing. The National Science Foundation reports that domestic high tech manufacturing jobs have declined by 28 percent since 2000, some 687,000 jobs. Even R&D is increasingly being performed overseas by large multinationals, notes the same report.
So yes. If you can build something for the Web, it may be easy to score a job at Facebook or Google or as an app developer. But for Americans who build something you can hold in your hand, like a semiconductor and the devices they enable, it's still tough out there. President Obama, and the Washington establishment in general, ought to know that.