Hearings to address tech-worker shortage

A job training work force commission will hold several public hearings this month to examine ways to increase the number of skilled information technology workers in the United States.

The 21st Century Workforce Commission, which Congress formed last year to address the IT labor shortage, will host the series of public hearings in cities with worker shortages. Although the commission hasn't decided where the hearings will be, dates have been proposed in the following cities:

Jan. 20, Jackson, Miss.; Jan. 26, Cupertino, Calif.; Feb. 10, Minneapolis; Feb. 24, Dallas; March 7, Boston; March 29, Northern Virginia.

The hearings, which are open to the public, will enable people in the industry to voice their concerns about filling technology positions. It will also give commission members an opportunity to address pertinent issues such as skill requirements and training. It is estimated that there are more than 400,000 unfilled technology positions including programmers, systems analysts and IT specialists. The federal government has had a particularly difficult time filling IT positions because private industry offers better incentives and wages.

In May, the commission must submit legislation recommendations to Congress and the president on how to remedy the technology employment shortfall.

One idea the commission will explore is training those who are not currently in the technology field. President Clinton said bridging the "digital divide" — the division between those who have access to technology and those who do not — will help low-income workers gain the skills they need to compete in the high-tech world.

It has also been recommended that additional immigration work visas be issued to high-tech workers in foreign countries.

Anyone interested in participating in the 21st Century Workforce Commission public hearings should call (202) 289-2939.

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