Azim Premji, chairman of Wipro, the Indian outsourcing group, has warned that the US faces a more acute skills shortage in information technology than India, blaming failings in America’s education system and restrictive immigration policies.
The comments will bolster arguments by US companies such as Microsoft, General Electric, Google and Intel, which have urged Washington to act to reverse the steady erosion in the stock of domestic IT talent.
“There is a scarcity of IT professionals in the US,” Mr Premji told the Financial Times. “Engineering is not growing talent, and that is a cause of concern.”
He said Indian groups would confound expectations of a looming skills shortage in the country and continue to draw on lower-cost, highly trained graduates to retain their technological edge.
However, he said Wipro would also continue to expand outside India to serve non-English speaking countries and could open a base in Russia within 18 months.
Mr Premji, a Stanford University graduate, said the US education system was not doing enough to attract mathematics and science teachers or to steer students towards those subjects.
“Math is not considered as important, and students are not getting a premium when they graduate as engineers,” he said. The US produces about 70,000 engineering graduates a year, a fraction of India’s 400,000, though that number is boosted by holders of three-year diplomas.
Willard Daggett, president of the International Center for Leadership in Education, said: “The problem is not that our schools aren’t what they used to be; the problem is that our schools are what they used to be.”
Mr Premji said US skill shortages have been made more acute by visa rules that have cut the number of science students and professionals allowed into the US. He said the curbs made it difficult for outsourcing companies to serve US-based customers and warned that the powerful Indian IT industry could lobby the Indian government to impose retaliatory measures on the US.
Bill Gates, Microsoft’s founder, has been warning about the evaporation of interest in computer science at US universities for more than two years.
Jeffrey Immelt, GE’s chief, told a Washington audience in January that the US was on its way to becoming “the massage capital of the world”, with more students graduating in sports sciences than electrical engineering.