ITAA Labor

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ITAA Labor Study a Call to Action

By Tania Anderson

Staff Writer

A new study by the Information Technology Association of America on the shortage of highly skilled, high-tech workers is stirring top-level interest at the White House, on Capitol Hill and from educators and infotech executives alike, industry officials say.

Officials from the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, members of Congress and key educators have expressed interest in participating in industry-led efforts to address the problem, according to Harris Miller, president of the 11,000-member ITAA based in Arlington, Va.

The study, "Help Wanted: The IT Workforce Gap at the Dawn of a New Century," found that there are 190,000 unfilled infotech jobs in the United States. Indeed, the association found an average of 33 vacancies at the 2,000 infotech and noninfotech companies it surveyed throughout the United States with positions requiring technical skills. Smaller infotech companies were excluded from the study.

The survey also found that of the 1,000 infotech companies surveyed, 82 percent expect to increase their staffing in the coming year. Of the 1,000 noninfotech companies surveyed, 56 percent expect staff increases.

The highest number of infotech vacancies are in network computing, systems development, top management for information systems as well as PC support and service operations, according to the study.

Sen. John Warner is drafting legislation that he plans to introduce this month proposing the formation of a national commission to recommend solutions to fix the infotech worker crisis.

"This infotech worker shortage is not a potential problem, it's an actual problem," Miller said at a Feb. 25 press conference in Washington announcing results of the study.

"The challenge is so fundamental that it will take a united effort by government, the education community and industry to find both short- and long-term solutions," Miller said.

Miller was joined by several local members of Congress, including Sen. John Warner, R-Va. and Rep. Tom Davis, R-Va., who announced plans to help the association launch a series of initiatives to stem the skilled infotech worker shortage. Joining the group were Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., and Rep. Lloyd Doggett, D-Texas, who also plan to work with the ITAA on its workforce initiatives.

The initiatives announced by Miller include a national convocation on the infotech worker crisis and creation of a national commission to recommend solutions to fix the problem. There is no timetable for the convocation. Warner is drafting legislation that he plans to introduce later this month proposing formation of the commission, according to Chas Phillips, a spokesman for Warner.

Other steps outlined by Miller call for a re-examination of the education paradigm, which does not emphasize technology, and a marketing campaign by industry to increase awareness of career opportunities in the infotech industry at the K-12 levels.

The national convocation would target the entire educational community, which has been criticized by business leaders for not producing graduates that can fulfill the demands of the market. Miller plans to bring together administration officials, members of Congress, state officials, educators and representatives of the infotech community at the national convocation later this year.

The group will brainstorm on innovations in higher education to produce more highly skilled graduates and will explore partnerships with community colleges to foster greater involvement in technical training. It will also study ideas for structuring new training and recruiting programs in the infotech industry, said Miller.

"In the 1960s and 1970s we had mainframe systems. Now, we are networking computers and databases, and the educational requirements are increasing significantly," said Stephen Patay, director of technology and strategy planning at TRW Enterprise Solutions, Long Beach, Calif.

Patay said his unit's biggest gap is in networking technology skills.

Miller also proposed forming a national commission to come up with solutions to the skilled workforce problem. This group is likely to include government leaders, infotech industry officials and the education community, Miller said.

Miller also suggested that the educational paradigm should be re-examined by the educational community and the infotech industry.

"The computer industry has depended on [higher education] to be the farm team to produce sufficient talent," said Miller. "But is this paradigm correct when the demand for knowledge workers has become so great?"

The ITAA's proposals will be explored by its members in the coming year, said Miller.

"This report is a clarion call for Congress to take action," said Warner, who announced plans to examine the Department of Education's technology policy. "This growing shortage says Uncle Sam is not doing its job with [education dollars]."

"We've been seeing this [workforce staffing] problem in Northern Virginia, but I had no idea that it was such a national problem," Davis said in an interview last week.

Since last fall, Davis has met with educators from George Mason University in Fairfax, Va., to discuss the local workforce shortfall. He plans to meet in the next few months with officials from the University of Maryland in College Park, Md., as well as officials from George Washington University and American University in Washington. Last month, Davis met with Robert R. Spillane, Fairfax County school superintendent, to discuss how the grade school curriculum is preparing students for careers in technology.


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