States Hold Key to Labor Shortage

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States Hold Key to Labor Shortage

By Neil Munro
Staff Writer

While the federal government can help, the solution to the shortage of skilled high-tech workers lies in the states and cities, according to Lauren Brownstein, director of work force issues at the Information Technology Association of America.

"That's where we really see the root of change happen," said Brownstein, who is organizing a conference in Berkeley, Calif., on worker education set for January. The industry-funded ITAA is based in Arlington, Va.

The ITAA's conference will showcase recommendations from industry, government and education officials about ways to increase the supply of skilled workers. The recommendations will be prepared by panels of industry executives and government officials, who will discuss what they need from each other and what programs work best, she said.

The lack of skilled labor is "what we think is the biggest threat to [the] industry," said Graham Mitchell, the assistant secretary of commerce for technology policy, who is working with the ITAA.

In February, the ITAA published a report that claimed a shortage of 190,000 skilled workers.

A more recent survey by the Computing Technology Industry Association of its members shows there is a shortage of 200,000 computer technicians, said Fran Linhart, the CTIA's director for project development, based in Lombard, Ill.

However, an official at the Department of Labor challenged these figures, saying they likely exaggerate any shortage of skilled workers. If there was a shortage, wages would have increased, he said.

But the Labor Department's data shows that wages paid to workers in the industry have held steady since 1993, except for systems analysts, whose wages have nudged upward since 1995.

To increase federal funding for worker training, the ITAA is working with Sen. James Jeffords, R-Vt., chairman of the Senate Committee on Labor and Human Resources, to reserve some federal funding for technology training at universities and vocational colleges, said Brownstein.

This would give state and local authorities a greater incentive to establish more technology training programs, she said.

The ITAA also is working with Sen. John Warner, R-Va., to establish a congressionally sponsored Commission on Information Technology Worker Shortage. This commission could be established by the end of summer and report its recommendations by the fall of 1998, said Brownstein.

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