Silicon Valley Needs Workers from CA

Joel Fox
Editor of Fox & Hounds and President of the Small Business Action Committee

On Monday, the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services announced that the cap for H-1B visas has been reached – in only one week’s time. The USCIS says a computer-generated process will randomly select the number of petitions needed to meet the caps of 85,000 visas so skilled computer scientists from around the world can work in the United States. Ask Silicon Valley executives and they’ll tell you that number is not nearly enough.

That’s why Valley leaders have created an organization, FWD.us to convince Congress to reform immigration or at the least lift the cap. As the group’s co-founder, Joe Green, put it,

“In Silicon Valley, if you don’t like the way something works, you go around it. If you don’t like the taxi system, you build Uber. But you can’t go around Congress. It’s Congress.”

While the push to lobby Congress is one way to find tech workers, another route is home grown. Pump up computer education in California’s schools and colleges to provide the high tech workers the industry seeks.

Recently, the Milken Institute’s California Center teamed up with the California Business Roundtable in the first in a series dubbed “Policy and California’s Economy” (PACE) highlighting the state’s standing in tech and science. The Milken Institute issued a publication that shows the state  falling behind in producing the workers needed in the computer and tech fields.

At the PACE roundtable in Sacramento the deficit in California’s pursuit of filling the high tech needs was noted by the California Center’s Kevin Klowden who stated that California ranked 40th amongst the states in granting degrees per one-thousand civilian workers. Some key minority groups, which make up a large part of the state’s student bodies, do not seek out tech careers. Only 74 African-Americans and 394 Latino’s took the computer Advanced Placement test in California, it was reported.

Robyn Hines, director of state government affairs for the Microsoft Corporation, noted that California schools produce only a third the number of computer science graduates the high tech industry needs.

To help correct the situation, Assemblywoman Kristin Olsen is offering AB 1764, co-authored with Assemblywoman Joan Buchanan, that would authorize school district governing boards to allow computer science courses as a mathematics course credit.

Along with Klowden, Olsen and Hines, the panel discussion based on the Milken Institute report included Assemblyman Raul Bocanegra, Michele Siqueiros, executive director of the Campaign for College Opportunity and Rob Lapsley, director of the California Business Roundtable, who moderated the discussion.

Silicon Valley could have a two-pronged approach to get the needed scientists seeking a change in the visa rules and also setting up programs to help improve the graduation numbers of tech students in California schools. The Silicon Valley businesses can help promote computer education in a number of ways through grants, internships and advocacy.

Of course, there may even be a third prong if Carla Marinucci’s column in the San Francisco Chronicle this week indicates things to come. According to the report, high profile Facebook exec Sheryl Sandberg might possibly run for the U. S. Senate with the ability to persuade future congressional colleagues about the way the tech world works.

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