Labor Shortage Key Issue for World IT Congress

TAIPEI (06/12/2000) - Eliot Norman, a Richmond, Virginia-based immigration attorney, arrived here this weekend for the World Congress on Information Technology but like many of the 1,300 attendees, he didn't come for the scheduled speeches by people such as Microsoft Corp. Chairman Bill Gates.

Norman was there to drum up business.

"I'm prospecting," said Norman, who is searching out foreign companies that can help his U.S. clients with their high-tech worker needs or do offshore software development. His clients need both.

And within hours of arriving, Norman found a lead. He said he met with officials of an Asian company that may be able to fill a labor gap for a U.S. firm's operations in Malaysia. "This is only 24 hours for me, but I'm very upbeat," Norman said yesterday.

The worldwide IT labor skills shortage is a major issue at this three-day event. But it's a problem that is also creating opportunities for countries with educated workforces.

"We are looking for investors," said Juan Alvarado Lozada, dean of Ecuador's leading engineering university, Escuela Superior Politecnica Del Litoral in Guayaquil. "We have the labor force, and in our university a good pool of engineers."

Lozada doesn't see any reason why Ecuador can't duplicate the experience of Bangalore, India, which has become a major area for offshore software development.

Lozada's goal may not be a dream.

Lester Thurow, an economist at MIT and one of the speakers at the conference, says he expects companies to broaden their search for IT skills and talent throughout the world.

For instance, "Egypt is going to be one of those places that is going to be discovered just as Bangalore was 10 years ago," Thurow predicted, citing one country that he believes has the workforce to meet IT labor demands. "There are places in the world where IT skills are underutilized."

Even tiny countries are trying to capture IT jobs at this conference.

Gregory Bowen, the minister of communications for Grenada, was at the conference to interest high-tech firms to look at his country as a potential solution to the IT labor shortage. He said high-tech firms have created 2,000 jobs in recent years in Grenada, which has a population of about 100,000.

U.S. companies alone will seek to hire an additional 1.6 million workers this year, but will only be able to fill half of those positions, according to a study this spring by the Information Technology Association of America in Arlington, Virginia.

IT companies have been creating jobs on the island, attracted by high educational levels and low wage rates, he said. "We are hoping to make some networking contacts," said Bowen.

Networking may be the main reason many people attend the congress, which began with a boisterous party last night hosted by Taipei city government. It featured an elaborate buffet and performers dressed as dragons moving acrobatically to drummers.

Taiwan is a major hardware IT producer. But the country is also preparing for e-commerce in an organized way. Taipei's city government has offered its 2.6 million residents free e-mail accounts and Internet training. Some 100,000 residents have set up e-mail accounts through the government program, officials said.

The congress is sponsored by the World Information Technology and Services Alliance, a Vienna, Va.-based organization that serves as an umbrella group for IT trade associations worldwide. It is the 12th meeting of the congress, which is held every two years.

Neither a steady rain nor a Sunday morning predawn earthquake measuring 6.7 on the Richter scale, strong enough to rapidly sway hotel beds and wake guests, seemed to bother conference attendees. The earthquake caused two deaths, 36 injuries and numerous landslides on Taiwan, according to local English-language media. But there were no major structural failures.

The quake didn't shake Achilles Hatzinikos, CEO of Computer Logic SA in Athens, from his goal of finding business opportunities in Taiwan for his software development firm. The quake "is no problem for Greeks because we have many earthquakes in Greece," said Hatzinikos.

But not everyone was at the Congress with the goal of improving their bottom line.

Richard Dooley, a program manager at BTG Inc., a systems developer and integrator in Fairfax, Virginia, was there along with 17 other members of his master's degree program at George Mason University, also in Fairfax, to fill an international studies requirement. The program, designed with the help of high-tech companies, provides training in technology and business management, he said.

Dooley says he is looking forward to conference's discussions on e-commerce and technology. But he also wants "enough ammunition to be able to write the 15-page assignment that I have to be able to write when I come back from this thing," he said.

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