As part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, the federal government has set aside more money for training, but that money isn’t specifically targeted for IT training, according to Trista Roehl, manager of public policy with CompTIA .
“We’re excited and disappointed about some of the training dollars in the bill,” she said. “We’re thrilled to see that money, but there [are] no specifics as far as how that money can be used, which means IT training organizations are competing with the same people that are training people to go into hairdressing or truck driving. We see that as a problem [because] those are not the industries that are going to pull our economy out of the current state, and IT actually has the potential to do so.”
Mike Wendy, director of public affairs with CompTIA, agreed.
“It’s encouraging that [the government] didn’t contract training, but they haven’t changed the underlying dynamic in the way the federal and state systems train people,” he explained. “A lot of the focus [is] on the old [technology], the old manufacturing sector. The dollars might be larger, [but] the magic words [aren’t] there.”
In the act, the government carved out $3.25 billion for the Workforce Investment Act (WIA), the premier federal jobs training program, and $1.3 billion for Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA).
However, WIA was not reauthorized in the stimulus bill. Its authorization expired in 2003 and a reauthorization would allow the government to modernize the act.
“For the last five years we’ve been operating under an outdated bill that’s just simply been refunded each year,” Roehl said. “In that time we’ve had a lot of growth in just learning about the way that Workforce Investment works and doesn’t work; the way that training programs work and don’t work; and the benefits and drawbacks of vouchers, so there’s a lot of information out there that just hasn’t been capitalized upon because it’s not in the law.”
It’s hard to say whether WIA will be reauthorized this year, according to Roehl, because “you’re dealing with the 535 opinions of Congress.” But there is some interest to get this done.
“If we’re able to do a WIA reauthorization this year, that could direct how some of that money is actually spent or, rather, which programs are emphasized or qualified for training vouchers,” Roehl said. “In 2005, we were able to get some language into the committee report saying that IT training should be a top priority, and we hope to do that again [and] maybe [even codify it] in the bill rather than just the report language.”
Wendy believes this process is a “work in progress.”
“We know that small IT companies [are] concerned about access to stimulus opportunities and we have a very superficial level of understanding, but the agencies and the states are all carving out their roles and figuring out how they’re going to deal with the dollars coming in,” he said. “It’s certainly not perfect, but we’re also saying, ‘Let’s not let the perfect be the enemy of the good.’ There’s still a lot of opportunity here.”