Commerce site combats pending IT worker shortage

To help combat a shrinking high-tech work force, the Commerce Department last week unveiled a new Internet site that provides a single source for information on information technology training programs.

The move is in response to a report the department's Office of Technology Policy released last fall, which said that over the next decade the demand for new IT workers will grow by 1.3 million. The report also noted that government and nonprofit organizations may increasingly be squeezed out of the competition for IT talent.

The new World Wide Web site, called "go for IT," addresses the IT worker shortage by providing a listing of high-tech worker training programs and information resources that are available across the country. It is aimed at teachers who are looking to update their IT skills, companies looking for ways to develop a skilled work force, nonprofit organizations seeking grants to train their work forces and individuals researching scholarships, internships and training opportunities.

The site, which is located at, was unveiled by Commerce Secretary William Daley at the Pacific Northwest Regional Forum on Developing a Competitive Information Technology Work Force. Initially, the page will link to 171 programs around the country, including the Northwest Center for Emerging Technologies.

"Right now, nationwide, there are many innovative programs to build a high-tech work force. But people do not know about them," Daley said. "Over and over we heard, 'This information needs to be available.' Now for the first time in one place, it is. Teachers can scan to see what other teachers are doing, states can find out what is happening in other states, and businesses can see what other businesses are doing."

The worker shortage will become even more urgent as agencies and businesses channel more and more resources into fixing the Year 2000 problem, Daley said. "With the need to get every computer in America ready for the Year 2000, we will see a spike for even more workers in the next 500 days," he said. "What is at stake is your products may be delayed, your expansion plans may get shelved. I hear this from all kinds of businesses."

Competition for IT workers has caused salaries to skyrocket, which can affect contractors that do business with the federal government, said Bert Concklin, president of the Professional Services Council, a trade association that represents professional and technical service contractors.

"There is terrible escalation in compensation," he said. "It's natural but [leads to] an unhealthy have people move every year." This situation can limit the growth of some companies, Concklin added.

Earlier this year, the Northern Virginia Technology Council estimated that there were close to 21,000 vacant IT jobs in the National Capital Region, which is an area in which IT companies on average do close to 75 percent of their business with the federal government.

While the new site may seem like a small step, it is a useful and innovative one, said Douglas Koelemay, acting executive director of the Northern Virginia Technology Council. "We found that the labor markets are inefficient, and the training markets are even more so. There is no [single] place where you can grab that information," he said. "This site promises to deliver that information at the speed people move. The [government] is beginning to tear down bureaucratic hurdles to sharing information."

The new Commerce Web site may help alleviate the situation somewhat, Concklin said. "If it is fairly comprehensive and accurate, any compendium for IT training will be generally helpful for organizations seeking IT professionals to carry out their mission," he said. "Assuming it is reasonably deep, it adds value particularly to smaller organizations that don't have the resources."

However, Concklin questioned whether setting up this site is part of the mission of the Commerce Department or whether it would be something better done by industry.


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