At Last, a Pragmatic Solution
Much has been written about a phenomenon known as the “offshoring” of IT jobs or, as it is often referred to by the industry, the “global sourcing” of IT workers. Most articles are focused on the positive and negative impacts of this labor trend, especially the human toll associated with American workers who have been displaced. Until now, I have been disappointed that none of the articles, nor the initiatives on which they were based, contained any pragmatic solutions that could actually help American workers—solutions that would help them not only keep their jobs, but also move into new and meaningful roles by developing their skills and utilizing them in a productive and rewarding way.
Now, at last, a new initiative has emerged that I believe has the ability to help American workers get the training they need to remain competitive, employable and upwardly mobile in their careers as IT professionals. Interestingly enough, this initiative is a piece of legislation introduced as the Technology Retraining and Investment Now Act of 2004, better known as the TRAIN Act.
The TRAIN Act addresses an important component of the international competitiveness of U.S workers and companies who either create information technology or apply it in the workplace. Historically, the United States has been the sole leader in the IT industry, in large part due to the value it has placed on education. The United States was among the first nations to create a K-12 public education system, but now, global competitors such as India have both embraced the concept and raised the bar by expanding public funding to include college education for IT majors. In the United States, it is largely left to the companies or the workers themselves to upgrade the IT skills they need to compete with a growing number of international counterparts. While this is not the only factor, the substantial and ongoing cost of training is a serious expense for U.S. companies that face growing economic pressures to outsource jobs.
The creators of the TRAIN Act have confronted these issues by proposing legislation that creates a public-private partnership, through the mechanism of federal education and training tax credits, to stimulate lifelong learning in information technology. The credit, available to both individuals and employers, equates to 50 percent of expenses, up to $8,000 per person per year ($10,000 in some cases). These expenses may include costs associated with coursework, certification testing and other expenses that are essential to acquiring technology skills. Companies in the United States regularly benefit from tax credits for research and development in order to make continual improvements in new product development. Similarly, it is now necessary to encourage companies to invest in the continuous skilling of their IT workforce. The TRAIN Act also helps individuals seek the education and training that they need in order to enter or re-enter the workforce. This should ensure that the United States has a full pipeline of skilled, effective and productive IT workers who can compete in today’s global landscape.
“TRAIN is designed to help either the worker or the employer recover the cost of IT and computer skills training,” said Congressman Jerry Weller (R-IL), one of the bill’s sponsors. “If a worker seeking the opportunity for higher-paying technology-based jobs invests in tuition to learn computer and information technology skills, TRAIN will give them a tax credit to reduce the cost. Or if the employer pays the cost of training, the employer is eligible for the credit. This doesn’t just cover the programmers, it also includes engineers, machinists, architects, call-center workers and others who must continuously upgrade their skills to keep up with changes in technology and others who might want to learn a new skill for a different type of employment.”
This legislation is important not only for the IT industry, but also for any industry touched by technology. Today, that is just about every industry that exists. Virtually every worker in the United States must continuously upgrade his or her skills due to the widespread use of ever-changing technology. It is essential that the United States invest in the future for its workers and businesses. The most productive and cost-effective way to achieve that objective is to encourage individuals and companies to invest in their own futures. The TRAIN Act is an ideal starting point for this process. CompTIA is leading coalition efforts to pass the legislation—if you are interested in helping, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Whether we like it or not, as IT workers we cannot remain gainfully employed without access to training that develops and keeps our skills up-to-date. At last, an initiative has come forward that I believe has the ability to make an enormous impact, ensuring that American IT workers remain valuable and employable in the future.
Martin Bean is the chief operating officer for New Horizons Computer Learning Centers, the world’s largest independent IT training company.