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 December 3, 1999

Labor squeeze: IT crisis offers opportunity

America’s booming economy is having a boomerang effect on one of the key industries responsible for this economic upswing: information technology (IT).

The unprecedented growth in technology has fueled a record demand for skilled workers, and the resulting shortage is now at crisis levels. This work-force deficiency is being felt across the country, and no where more acutely than in Colorado.

The concern over IT worker shortages is not idle hand-wringing. Historically, Colorado’s economy has depended on three primary sectors: agriculture, mining and tourism.

Today, our economy is far more diversified; however, that diversification is technology-driven, and the businesses and industries fueling this unprecedented growth are experiencing dramatic deficiencies in trained and qualified technicians. Skilled workers are essential to maintaining these increasingly sophisticated technologies that gather, arrange, analyze, administer and deliver information.

According to PricewaterhouseCoopers, in the past year, 63 percent of fast-track U.S. technology businesses have come up short in their hiring of IT workers, while the Information Technology Association of America estimates that nationally there are more than 346,000 IT jobs currently vacant. That includes at least 7,000 in Colorado. Early last year, Secretary of Commerce William Daley suggested that over the next decade, as many as 1.3 million of these positions will be left unfilled.

A survey by Cisco Systems, the world’s leader in networking for the Internet, found that 82 percent of technology companies expect to increase the number of IT positions, while 70 percent cite a lack of available workers as a barrier to growth. On top of that, with the rapid changes in the industry, analysts predict that 74 percent of current IT workers will need to be retrained over the next few years.

All of this data and the accompanying doom-and-gloom pronouncements underscore the importance of further strengthening the ties between education and business and industry.

Over the past several years, the Colorado Community College and Occupational Education System has coordinated with companies statewide in an effort to address the crisis. Business leaders indicate a strong demand for technicians, who with a one-year certificate or two-year associate degree, have the nuts-and-bolts skills that the companies needed.

Of course, there will be a continued demand for computing engineers and scientists; however, the demand for technicians will be far greater. The competent technician is the backbone of the high-tech revolution and for every engineer or scientist, 15 technicians are needed to assemble, maintain, operate and troubleshoot the systems. And these are not low-end, low-paying jobs, but rather career paths offering starting salaries in a range from $25,000 to $50,000.

By creating programs to help attract and train IT workers, our community colleges are fulfilling their role and mission of work-force development. Last year, we entered into an agreement with Cisco System that created regional academies at each college and local academies at many high schools.

Additionally, our colleges regularly provide customized training programs both onsite and at their campuses to upgrade IT worker skills for business and industry.

These programs are critical to properly address the IT worker shortage. After all, it is not just an American problem. Globally, the demand for information-technology technicians will continue to grow. In truth, the potential is staggering.

Currently, only 5 percent of the world’s population has a computer. In 1995, only 22 million people were on the Internet. Next year, that number is expected to reach nearly 133 million. It is estimated that right now more than 760,000 people are working for Internet-related companies. As more people access computers, the Internet and the World Wide Web over the coming decades, the demand for qualified workers will only grow. Unless more people are trained to fill this void, the current crisis will be magnified many times over.

Yet, I am mindful that the Chinese symbol for crisis consists of two characters, one representing danger, and the other opportunity. While work-force shortage in the information-technology industry is a crisis, it is also an opportunity for thousands of Coloradans looking for a future with unlimited possibilities.

Dorothy Horrell is president of the Colorado Community College and Occupational Education System.

America’s booming economy is having a boomerang effect on one of the key industries responsible for this economic upswing: information technology (IT).

The unprecedented growth in technology has fueled a record demand for skilled workers, and the resulting shortage is now at crisis levels. This work-force deficiency is being felt across the country, and no where more acutely than in Colorado.

The concern over IT worker shortages is not idle hand-wringing. Historically, Colorado’s economy has depended on three primary sectors: agriculture, mining and tourism.

Today, our economy is far more diversified; however, that diversification is technology-driven, and the businesses and industries…

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