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Behind the White House's claim of 545,000 unfilled IT jobs

Patrick Thibodeau | March 16, 2015
Earlier this week, the White House announced a plan to use $100 million in H-1B fees to help train people for technology jobs. To make its case for this new program, it said there were 545,000 "unfilled jobs" in information technology.

Earlier this week, the White House announced a plan to use $100 million in H-1B fees to help train people for technology jobs. To make its case for this new program, it said there were 545,000 "unfilled jobs" in information technology.

This claim of more than half-million available IT jobs needs a lot of explanation.

It was based on data from one source that doesn't account for normal churn in the labor market, meaning that these jobs do not represent an explosion in new job demand.

The White House data point doesn't tell you how many of these jobs are for contract or contingent workers.

This unfilled-jobs data also doesn't explain a decline in starting salaries for computer science bachelor degree graduates, reported by the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE).

In a footnote, the White House cited two sources for its data, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) and labor analytics firm Burning Glass Technologies, which analyzes help-wanted ads.

In creating its data, the White House used BLS data showing 5 million job openings overall in the U.S. But, a BLS spokeswoman said, it doesn't have a separate breakout for IT occupations.

This means that the administration's 545,000 unfilled IT jobs figure is based on the Burning Glass analysis. It arrived at this by counting the number of jobs over a 90-day period leading up to President Barack Obama's State of the Union address on Jan. 20, according to Dan Restuccia, chief analytics officer at Burning Glass.

Estimates on the size of the IT labor force can vary depending on which occupational groups are counted. Burning Glass puts it at about 3.5 million, and uses Occupational Information Network (O*NET), a computer and mathematical occupations category.

The analytics firms pulls job postings from about 50,000 sites, gathers occupations, industries, specific skills, certifications, degrees, salary if available and other data and then runs it through a deduplication process that sets aside about 80% of the job postings and keeps the unique ones, said Restuccia.

The White House number doesn't identify which job postings are the result of churn, or due to people within the workforce who are moving to other jobs or new demand from expanded hiring.

But what each job posting represents for a job seeker is "a chance to go get a job," said Restuccia. He said the point of the White House's use of this data was "to highlight the importance of IT jobs across the market."

Burning Glass's approach draws concerns from Hal Salzman, a professor of planning and public policy at Rutgers University, who studies the science and engineering workforce. "They claim they deduplicate, but they don't publish their methodology; there is no external verification," he said.

 

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