H-1B Fees Pay for High-Tech Training

Dozens of local high-tech training initiatives will receive more than $80 million this year from the U.S. Department of Labor, which is awarding money generated from a visa program popular in high-tech.

The money won't solve all of the industry's labor woes, analysts said, but the grants will help develop the talent that the information technology industry needs, such as Web programming and database administration.

The government realizes that the technical skills shortage is an "inhibiting factor to growth" for many companies, said Barbara Gomolski, research director at Gartner Institute in Eden Prairie, Minn.

The department is awarding money primarily to coalitions that oversee workforce development and involve both the public and private sectors. Using a portion of the $500 fee that foreign workers pay when they apply for an H-1B visa, the federal agency has awarded about half of the money thus far and plans to award the rest by October.

The San Francisco City Private Industry Council Inc. will use its grant to fund seven months of training for 250 individuals, many of whom are low-income citizens and minorities, who will be trained in areas like technical support, Web design and systems administration, said Pamela Calloway, the council's president. Local organizations, such as Goodwill Industries and the Bay Area Video Coalition, will provide training and placement services.

The council was one of 12 organizations that received $2 million to $3 million from the Labor Department during a recent round of funding. The department said it expects the $29 million awarded last month to pay for the training of more than 5,000 workers.

The government's selection criteria for training projects included sustainability, cost effectiveness and the involvement of community organizations through partnerships.

Selected employers in the Baltimore area will receive money for training in database development, systems integration and network design, said Lisa Scott, a senior program specialist for Baltimore County, which was recently awarded a $2.5 million grant. Firms can select the training provider and delivery method, she said. About half of the money will be used to train employers' existing workers, and the rest will go toward training unemployed and non-IT workers for entry-level positions. Employers will commit to hiring those workers after the training.

The county plans to use an assessment tool to determine if unemployed workers have the skills to enter high-tech jobs; details of the project are being worked out, said Scott.

When the Labor Department's training dollars dry up, Calloway said, she hopes to have "honed the ability to connect those job seekers who are unskilled to skilled labor positions." She also said her organization may be able to attract more training money from other public and private sources.

Sustaining a training program is key for it to have a lasting impact, said Cushing Anderson, a program manager at International Data Corp. in Framingham, Mass. "The need for high-tech workers isn't going to diminish; it will accelerate. You still need to fill the pipeline every year," he said.

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