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Utah's challenge: Matching tech talent with tech jobs

Published: Sunday, Oct. 6 2013 5:50 p.m. MDT

The tech industry is growing. But it's not clear if there are too few jobs or not enough workers.

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SALT LAKE CITY —For Sara Gomez, the United States is a land of opportunity.

She moved to the United States from Colombia in 2009 and is studying at Brigham Young University on a student visa. Gomez will graduate with a degree in economics in April. Currently employed with Goldman Sachs, Gomez hopes that she will be able to stay on with the company with the help of an H-1B visa. There are more opportunities for employment in the States than in her native Colombia, she said.

"You can graduate with a job and a really good wage or a fairly good wage," she said.

If her petition is granted, she will be one of the 65,000 people who are hired annually in the United States on an H-1B visa. H-1B visas are available for companies that want to hire a "foreign worker if a U.S. citizen or resident is not available," according to the H-1B application website.

Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, is among those who seeks to expand the number of available visas to 115,000 annually, with the option to increase the capacity to a maximum of 300,000 annual visas if the economy necessitates.

Opinions as to the necessity of the visas and actuality of the shortage of workers are split.

The good news is that the tech industry is growing in Utah, according to Nic Dunn, public information officer for the Department of Workforce Services. According to the Department, the tech sector has grown at a rate of 5.8 percent over the past year, much higher than the overall Utah average of 2.7 percent growth.

"It's hard to tell whether we have too many jobs or too many job seekers in this field. But we can tell that the growth is good and the innovation is good."

Tech shortage

"I would say yes, we are experiencing a shortage," Chris Leonard agent care manager for Quomation, a company that creates software and cloud storage for insurance companies, said.

In 2012, they received 30 to 40 responses to their job advertisements. This year, they received five to 10 responses.

"Sometimes it does come down to the fact that we can't offer them a wage they'd be willing to accept," he said. The company is at the lower end of the pay scale in the industry, with entry-level positions ranging from $35,000 per year to $80,000 or $90,000, depending on experience.

The company has hired one worker using an H-1B visa and their last two hires came from out of state.

Karen Feinauer, administrative manager in the University of Utah School of Computing said she sees her students getting jobs. When they do turn jobs down, it is because of salary or because they've been hired elsewhere.

She said if there is a shortage, it is because schools are not educating "domestic students to go into our STEM programs."

Many of those who she has seen go through the Master's program are not from the United States. That has many asking, why train people in U.S. colleges and universities and then send them to other countries to become competitors?

This is the question that Orrin Hatch and tech industry leaders asked during a round table discussion in August.

"This is because of our own stupidity, and we're going to try and change that," he said during the discussion.

Representatives from companies such as Microsoft, Insidesales.com and Property Solutions said they could not hire skilled workers quickly enough.

This is something that Joe Sindad, career counselor and program manager at the University of Utah, has seen as well.

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