Commerce kicks off plan to reduce IT worker shortage

In an effort to address the increasing shortage of information technology workers, the Commerce Department on Monday announced several outreach initiatives to help attract talent to the high-tech industry.

The Commerce Department estimates that during the next decade, businesses nationwide will need 1.3 million additional IT workers. The Northern Virginia Technology Council estimates that close to 21,000 IT jobs are vacant in the Washington, D.C., area, where IT companies on average do nearly 75 percent of their business with the federal government. Federal agencies also report they have a difficult time filling IT vacancies.

As a result, Commerce's Office of Technology Policy plans to coordinate "tech talks" between National Medal of Technology winners—- the highest honor for technological innovation awarded by the president—- and parents and students at technology and science museums nationwide. Commerce also plans to use the Internet to hook up students working on science and technology fair projects with the medal winners and to create a speakers bureau for groups interested in showcasing medal recipients at conferences and seminars.

Commerce Secretary William Daley announced the plans at the first in a series of "town meetings" Commerce plans to hold across the country this year to teach businesses and communities how to develop a competitive IT workforce.

Almost every U.S. company is "staring down the barrel" of the IT worker shortage, Daley said. "Because information technology permeates every sector of the economy, IT workers are now key employees everywhere. Without adequate human capital, products may be delayed and expansion plans may get shelved."

In addition to the Commerce initiatives, various bills have been introduced to reduce the IT worker shortage, including the Technology Skills Partnership Act of 1998 (S.2021), which would authorize a $50 million annual grants program to be overseen by the National Institute of Standards and Technology. It would create regional working groups designed to combine the resources of public and private groups to train workers and provide matching federal dollars, up to $1 million, for every dollar invested by state and local governments and the private sector in these groups.

Also, the Northern Virginia Technology Council, the Greater Washington Board of Trade and the High Technology Council of Maryland recently announced a Tech Intern Program. The program will link resumes with internship opportunities to provide teachers and students with information about technology careers in the Washington metropolitan area.

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