IT vacancies add up

The information technology work force's number is up: 843,328 IT positions

will go unfilled this year, according to an Information Technology Association

of America study.

The ITAA study quantifies the supply and demand problem agencies and industry

have been feeling. The demand for skilled IT workers far exceeds the supply,

posing a problem for companies doing business with the government and for

agencies that are already competing with industry to hire IT workers.

"I think the federal IT situation is dire," said Harris Miller, president

of the ITAA, speaking at the ITAA National IT Workforce Convocation in Chicago.

A large percentage of the federal IT work force is near retirement age,

and government salaries are low, making it difficult for agencies to compete

for workers who are already in short supply, he said. "Outsourcing is going

to have to grow dramatically."

But as outsourcing grows, so will the need for leadership and management

skills, Miller said. Government should significantly raise salaries for

its top IT managers, he said, because they will be responsible for making

the decisions about who will administer agency IT programs in the future

and ensuring that they are managed appropriately.

The ITAA study found that one-third of all new positions over the next

12 months will be in technical support, with employers especially interested

in workers with skills in trouble-shooting, customer service, hardware and

software installation, and systems operation and maintenance.

Arlington, Va.-based ITAA said its study was one of the most comprehensive

reviews of the IT work force ever conducted. It based its findings on 700

telephone interviews with randomly selected IT managers.

To the extent industry is feeling this worker shortage, "we're going

to feel it too," said Karen Danis, program leader for information management/IT

competency management in the Navy's Office of the Chief Information Officer.

"These are the people we're trying to [hire to] operate our infrastructure."

The Navy is in the process of outsourcing its non-core mission areas,

including basic communication capabilities and desktop management, Danis

said. "We're looking to industry to provide a lot of those technology skills,"

she said. "We really need people [in the Navy] to be good decision-makers."

Ernst Volgenau, president and chief executive officer at SRA International

Inc., said the ITAA figures are not surprising but they do raise some concerns.

"I don't think there's the same influx of people into government to take

the place" of the workers who are leaving as they hit retirement or are

heading to the private sector, he said.

The shortage is affecting SRA's business. With its vacancy rate hovering

around 10 percent, the company "can't grow as much as we would like," Volgenau

said. The company's growth could translate into more federal contracts "if

we get more people."

Faster growth and more business for SRA would mean more work for its

subcontractors and suppliers. "If we can't get work, they can't," Volgenau

said. Absent these workers, other countries are likely to fill in to meet

the demand, moving work overseas and leaving the United States at a disadvantage

over the long term, he said.

Many observers believe that one way to reduce the IT worker shortage

is to encourage more young students to enter the field or train them to

feel comfortable using technology. This starts with encouraging teachers

to use technology as part of their curricula, said Tom Carroll, director

of the Preparing Tomorrow's Teachers to Use Technology program at the Education

Department. Today only about 20 percent of teachers feel comfortable using

technology in instruction, he said.

"We want teachers to teach with technology so students in high school

and middle school are learning with technology integrated in their courses

so [that] they accept technology as a natural tool within the workplace,"

Carroll said.

For fiscal 2001, the Clinton administration asked for double the amount

of grant money — $150 million — that it requested last year to help train

teachers to use technology as part of their course instruction.

—IDG News Service contributed to this article.

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