IT Industry Challenges and Potential Solutions
I recently had the opportunity to participate in an executive summit comprised of leaders from within the Department of Labor and the IT industry to explore the workforce challenges faced by multiple industries. My role at this summit was to briefly describe the challenges facing the IT industry workforce in 2004 and beyond. To do this I first illustrated how the IT industry has evolved to be the information and communications technology industry and how the two, previously unique, industries have converged technologically and now share a common set of job skills. I then summarized the workforce challenges currently faced by this industry into three broad categories.
The first challenge I discussed was skills management. Our industry faces the daunting task of skilling workers to effectively use IT tools that are constantly changing and evolving. We also need to re-skill IT professionals so they have both the business skills as well as the technical skills needed to meet the needs of their employers. Lastly, we need to skill new entrants and career-changers to ensure their effectiveness and success upon entering our industry.
The second challenge we confront is attracting enough new entrants. Offshoring of IT jobs is clearly a major concern for our industry’s domestic workforce. It is imperative that we focus on the improvement of the IT industry’s image so new entrants are attracted into our colleges and for-profit education programs. The only way to ensure that enough qualified entry-level IT workers are available to satisfy domestic workforce needs is to restore the perception that a career in IT offers security and growth.
The third challenge is a lack of clearly defined standards to measure the skill level of an IT professional. Employers are requiring more skills and training than existing certification programs can offer alone. College credentials and industry certifications are a unique and effective way to begin the process of ascertaining whether someone has the skills and experience necessary to complete an IT task. However, we need to take another step forward and develop a clear industry-defined education- and government-supported road map. This road map would allow employers not only to make effective hiring decisions, but also, perhaps more importantly, to continue to update the skills of their incumbent IT workers today and in the future.
One unique program designed to address these challenges is the National IT Apprenticeship System, or NITAS program. CompTIA, the Computing Technology Industry Association, has partnered with the Department of Labor to develop this nationwide IT workforce development program to address the need for a better IT training model that incorporates on-the-job training. Apprenticeships have been in use for centuries and have proven that instruction combined with learning by doing provides the best preparation for success on the job. The NITAS program combines all three training methods of classroom instruction, industry certification and on-the-job training and then tracks and validates the skill level of each individual to confirm that knowledge transfer has taken place.
Apprenticeships benefit IT workers by providing a method to achieve mastery in their profession, define a career path and gain a competitive edge over workers overseas. This specific program also benefits employers by providing a much-needed road map they can utilize to recruit and skill IT workers. The education and mentoring of IT workers must remain a top priority, and the development of a clear plan to help employers skill their new and incumbent IT employees is essential to the health of our industry. For more information on the NITAS program, go to www.nitas.us and www.doleta.gov for general apprenticeship information.
It is clear that all industries in the U.S. economy face challenges from a workforce perspective. However, I am optimistic that we will continue to find solutions. My optimism is due in large part to the interest and involvement by the Department of Labor to ensure that the information and communications technology industry has a supply of competent workers to meet employers’ demands, both today and going forward. I believe that the NITAS program provides a unique opportunity for us to bring common standards that reflect the real need of employers. It is absolutely essential that we continue to develop solutions that allow us to compete in the global economy through the supply of the most skilled IT workers in the world.
Martin Bean is the chief operating officer for New Horizons Computer Learning Centers Inc., the world’s largest independent training company.