With the economy potentially on the brink of recession and job openings in the tech industry still at record levels, many tech leaders across the country are returning to a similar set of economic dynamics two decades ago.

In the years between the dot-com bust and the Great Recession of 2008, companies were experiencing a degree of economic uncertainty that would be unheard of today. At the time, offshoring dominated the headlines, and as they looked for ways to cut costs and increase profits, a growing number of businesses were looking to new sources of talent overseas.

I saw this shift happen firsthand as a senior IT executive at a large company in the early 2000s when we adopted a strategy to fill job openings with contingent workers in India and other countries. others.

Faced with a rapidly growing need for technology skills, we were looking everywhere for talent and looking to develop overseas as the best way to grow in the most cost-effective way. Companies then weren’t laying off local workers or outsourcing every single job. But like many of our peers, we certainly stopped our growth in the US in order to focus on other markets.

This level of offshoring had a significant impact abroad, contributing to significant economic growth in other countries. But it has also had an impact at home.

In the mid-2000s, the number of computer science graduates in the US fell sharply, due to a perception among students and families that those desirable technology jobs were being filled by workers from other countries. Although only a small percentage of jobs actually left in the early days, the story was powerful enough to keep people pursuing those jobs—or the educational paths to access them.

It was so powerful, in fact, that a group of business leaders and educational organizations in my hometown of Cincinnati responded by forming a local coalition, INTERalliance, designed specifically to rebuild tech talent in the region.

In other words, within a few years, we were investing in fighting a narrative that we ourselves had helped perpetuate.

Today I am no longer responsible for the technology workforce for a large company. But my work in the service of diversity challenges in tech places me in the middle of talent conversations with tech leaders at a variety of companies that are once again embarking on formal projects to “reimagine” their approach to hiring.

What is disturbing is that although much has changed in the last 20 years, these employment projects seem very familiar. They often involve actively teaming up with staffing firms to bring in more outside talent, or even—once again—leaving and targeting H-1B visa holders.

None of this is a bad idea per se, but a lot has changed in the last decade. Looking overseas for a ready and more cost-effective source of tech talent in the mid-2000s was a sustainable response to managing costs at a time of growing demand. There were few alternatives.

Today, we know more about the long-term impacts of underinvestment in growing the US tech workforce. And now we have solutions already in place across the country that promise immediate and long-term benefits for companies and workers here at home, eliminating a repeat of the offshoring practices used decades ago.

We know, for example, that millions of workers in the U.S. have the skills to succeed in technology roles, but they are constantly overlooked by employers who insist on four-year degrees. We know that faster and cheaper alternatives to a bachelor’s degree can help aspiring tech workers master the skills needed in today’s job market—and that those alternative paths can lead to transformative salary gains.

We know that regional coalitions of employers, training providers, and community organizations—in cities like Buffalo; Houston; and Louisville, Kentucky—can combat regional economic stagnation and create more opportunities for people to access fulfilling, family-stable jobs.

And we know that the rise of remote and hybrid work is enabling companies to expand access to good jobs for workers across the country, not just in traditional tech hubs.

However, many employers have yet to change their hiring practices to recognize the potential of these other routes, or to explicitly screen workers known as STAR (Skilled Through Alternative Routes). Many businesses are choosing the strategies they know—looking overseas or poaching talent from their competitors—rather than investing the time and energy needed to build a strong, sustainable technology workforce within the American economy.

Again, those strategies aren’t bad in a vacuum. But if we act as if they are the only answer to this supply-demand challenge, we close the door of opportunity to millions of Americans who could have access to some of the best-paying and most future-proof jobs in our economy.

The good news is that some forward-thinking organizations have decided to pursue new solutions to solve the tech talent shortage. Massive companies like Accenture and IBM, as well as state governments like Maryland, are eliminating degree requirements from job descriptions and recognizing the potential of hiring, training and supporting STARs.

It’s time for more companies to do the same.

More companies have an opportunity to strengthen their tech talent pipelines while also creating pathways to economic mobility for the workers who need them most. Given that Black, Hispanic, and female STARs face disproportionate barriers to opportunity, creating new pathways for these workers will also help businesses address the urgent need to build a more diverse and inclusive workforce.

If they don’t pursue these new approaches, we know exactly what will happen—because we saw the impact of community underinvestment two decades ago. If we choose to learn from that experience and invest in the people and programs in our communities, we can accelerate the growth and diversity of America’s tech workforce and avoid repeating this conversation a decade from now.


Julie Elberfeld is a senior advisor for Opportunity@Work and a former SVP of Capital One.

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