Commission Addresses IT Workforce Issues

WASHINGTON (06/27/2000) - A commission that studied U.S. companies' high-technology employment needs and the ability of U.S. public schools to produce graduates who meet them has recommended several changes necessary to build a highly skilled IT workforce.

The 21st Century Workforce Commission, which released its report Tuesday at a news conference here, said too many adults enter the workforce with poor basic skills, falling far short of the high level of technical skills needed for employment in an information technology job.

The current situation is critical for IT companies because of an unprecedented demand for highly skilled workers that continues to grow.

The U.S. Department of Commerce estimates that by 2006 nearly half of all U.S. workers will be employed in industries that produce or intensively use information technology. Another government agency, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, has released data that indicates from 1998 to 2008, 2 million new IT workers will be needed to fill newly created jobs and to replace IT workers leaving the field.

"The nation will struggle to meet the need because too many adults are entering the U.S. workforce with poor basic academic and workplace skills," said Kathy Clark, commission vice chairwoman and president and chief executive officer of Landmark Systems Corp. of Reston, VirginiaOver the past eight months, the commission held hearings and visited more than a dozen sites nationwide before writing its recommendations, the first of which is the need to redefine literacy. The commission's report says that as the demand for technologically skilled workers increases, every American needs to acquire "21st century literacy," including proficiency in technology.

"The current and future health of America's 21st century economy depends on whether America can reach a new level of 21st century literacy," said Lawrence Perlman, chairman of the commission and former CEO of Ceridian Corp. "We need to change the definition of literacy to mean not only strong academic skills, but also to include thinking, reasoning, teamwork skills and proficiency in using technology."

Among the report's eight other recommendations to U.S. educators, politicians and other leaders responsible for building a highly skilled workforce are:

-- Identify paths to IT jobs;

-- Increase enrollment in IT programs;

-- Shape a flexible immigration policy for skilled IT workers; and-- Make universal access to the Internet and other technologies a reality.

"If American companies cannot fill their information technology and other technology jobs with qualified workers, then ultimately the economic competitiveness of the nation will suffer," Perlman said. "So we ought to have a high sense of urgency... to begin to look forward to address these issues."

U.S. educators already are implementing some of the recommendations, said Patricia M. McNeil, assistant U.S. secretary of education. The Department of Education is partnering with 10 U.S. states, IT companies, including Microsoft Corp. and Intel Corp., and the Information Technology Association of America (ITAA) to develop industry standards for jobs that don't require a four-year college degree.

Many high schools across the country are using a concept called "career clusters" to focus a student's interest in a particular area.

"The idea of having a cluster around information technology is something we've never done in career education," McNeil said. "The basic idea is so many kids are turned on by computers... that if they have an opportunity to really understand the importance of a strong academic preparation, the information analysis, the communication skills... it gives them a motivation to stay in school and a motivation to work hard."

The 17-member 21st Century Workforce Commission was established by U.S.

Congress in 1998 and asked to recommend how to ensure that American workers have the opportunity to prepare for information technology jobs.

The report will be submitted to U.S. President Bill Clinton and to Congress, which is considering a bill supported by the IT industry that would increase the number of immigrants allowed into the country under the H-1B visa program, which allow them to fill certain types of jobs, including many IT positions.

Among the provisions of that bill are some aimed at bolstering the U.S. education system so that the IT companies do not have to rely on foreign workers to fill their positions.

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