CXO

Feds fight IT labor shortage with training incentives

The federal government is stepping up its efforts to fight the IT labor shortage with training and education incentives. But can such initiatives help you fill the gaps in your org chart?


As an IT manager, you’ve probably got holes in your organizational chart all year round—a support desk job to fill here, a network administrator to hire there.

If so, you’re not alone.

Last July, the U.S. Department of Commerce released its Digital Work Force report, which found that up to 1.3 million high-tech workers will be needed between now and 2006.

While there’s no “silver bullet” solution to the IT workforce challenge, the federal government is stepping up its efforts to make training and education more readily available to individuals and to help companies fund worker training. Whether you’re considering additional training for yourself or looking for ways to make training available for your staff, read on to find out what’s happening at the federal level and how you can show your support for federally funded training programs.

What’s been done to offset the labor shortage
The federal government has already taken steps in fighting the IT worker shortage with training as part of the agenda.

The State Department is paying recruitment bonuses for new federal employees with critical IT skills, and retention allowances for current employees with those same skills. And in October 1999, it announced a new IT Professional Skills Pilot Program aimed at retaining employees with critical IT skills.

Last month, President Clinton launched a $2 billion federal plan to combat cyber-terrorism, including a new educational initiative to recruit and educate IT workers. The Federal Cyber Services Training and Educational Initiative calls for the federal government to identify and develop skills needed for federal IT security positions and the associated training and certification requirements. In addition, it calls for the creation of a Scholarship for Service program to recruit and educate federal IT managers by awarding scholarships for the study of information security in return for a commitment to work for a specified time for the federal government.

Technology training has also become a big issue in this year’s presidential race. The major candidates all have outlined plans on their Web sites to fight the IT labor shortage. Al Gore, for instance, has promised to create new savings accounts, similar to 401(k) retirement accounts, to help workers finance training programs and to provide tax cuts to those who deliver training. He plans to expand Life Long Learning programs, so that every adult who needs technical training can get it.

Public interest groups are also advocating government funding for IT training. The Technology Workforce Coalition supports federal and state legislation that will provide technology training tax credits to individuals and businesses to eliminate the technology skills shortage. Several major corporations have joined the coalition, including Microsoft, Intel, Novell, and IBM.

Grant Mydland, manager of the Technology Workforce Coalition, said the tax credit will be a great benefit both to individuals who receive it and to the organizations that provide the training.

“Depending on the size of the company, they can deduct 20 to 25 percent of their IT training expenses. The key is that they can spend more each year and, through the tax credit, get that money back,” he said. “The private sector knows what and where to train. They can ensure that they have the skilled work force for the next five to 10 years.

“The companies that are going to be hired to provide training, and even the internal training shops, should be looking at this tax credit as an opportunity to increase their business,” Mydland added.

Much work to be done
But experts point out that much more will have to be done to bring publicly funded training to the forefront of the IT labor issue.

The Information Technology Training Act of 1999, which has stalled in Congress, would provide incentives for businesses to provide, promote, or reimburse their employees for IT training. The bill would provide federal income tax credits of 20 to 25 percent to businesses for their IT training costs. This is in addition to any other federal or state business tax deductions, credits, or other government programs that support IT training.

And while Clinton’s plan to train workers to fight cyber-terrorism is beneficial, the need for highly skilled government workers goes beyond security. George Molaski, CIO of the U.S. Department of Transportation , suggests that the key way to solve IT workforce issues is to develop a “Cyber Corps,” a federal program that would provide and pay for IT education and training in return for government service. Unfortunately, he said, “the support for a true Cyber Corps continues to grow but there is not a champion on Capitol Hill yet.

“You won’t draw them from the lucrative high-tech companies. Government just can’t move or change fast enough,” he added.

Molaski said both the public and private sector will benefit from the Cyber Corps plan. “We want to be able to do the same thing in terms of getting the talent we need in government to continue to be a smart consumer of information technology, along with developing an experienced labor pool of which we can reap the benefits,” he said. “I’m sure some of them will stay on and some of them will move out to industry. The industry gets a better labor pool and the country gets a smarter government.”

Despite lower salaries, there are advantages to working in the public sector, experts say.

Mark Cecere, senior analyst and vice president of Giga Information Group , noted that government work often provides opportunity to oversee large projects with generous funding.

“There aren’t many places you can go with a relatively low level of experience and be able to be a part of some very large dollar projects,” he said. “The junior-level people are often in charge of a lot of money.”

What you can do
In the Digital Work Force Report, suggestions are made for ways businesses can resolve training issues. Namely, they should be tapping underrepresented labor pools, especially women, minorities, and the disabled. The report also encourages tech firms to reduce the cost of risk of worker training and assess IT training needs, develop curricula, train current or prospective employees, and develop ways to help employees get experience in applying the technical skills they acquire through training.

At the same time, the federal government promises to review government-supported IT training programs and contract training providers to ensure they are aligned with employer needs, growing career areas, and job markets in which they operate.

In the meantime, you might consider joining an organization that advocates publicly funded IT training. Here are a few:

The Information Technology Association of America, the nation’s largest trade association for the IT industry, has more than 11,000 member companies.

The Computing Technology Industry Association (CompTIA) represents more than 7,500 IT companies and provides a voice for the industry in the areas of public policy, workforce development, and electronic commerce standards.

The Technology Workforce Coalition, an advocacy group made up of a dozen associations and a hundred-plus small and large companies, is focusing its current efforts on the IT Training Tax Credit bill.

The CIO Council, made up of chief information officers from all federal agencies and cabinets, promotes IT issues as they relate to the federal government and the welfare of the nation. The council’s Web site is a great source for news on technology matters at the federal level.
Tell us your ideas for fighting the IT labor shortage by posting a comment below. If you have a story idea you’d like to share, please drop us a note.

Editor's Picks

Free Newsletters, In your Inbox