U.S. Department of Labor Discusses IT Workforce

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Last week, senior executives from top U.S. IT companies met with the leadership of the U.S. Department of Labor Employment & Training Administration at CompTIA’s headquarters near Chicago to discuss strategic workforce development issues. According to Emily Stover DeRocco, assistant secretary of labor for the Labor Department’s Employment & Training Administration, this was the first in a series of Executive Forums that will take place around the country to help the department gauge industry executives’ perception of the current and future challenges to developing a skilled IT workforce.




DeRocco told CertMag that there is not a lot of industry consensus on these challenges or their potential solutions. “We addressed a full array of issues that the executives identified for us,” she said. One of these problems is the heavy emphasis the government and training providers place on acquiring technical skills, she said. “Now there is a substantial need to move beyond technical skills to the development of business skills, project management skills and leadership skills.”




Executives at the forum were also concerned about developing their incumbent IT workers on a continuing basis, DeRocco said. One of the challenges is determining who is responsible for ensuring this lifelong learning—workers, employees or both to varying degrees. “There is clearly an interest in some shared foundational competency identification and skills development and improved incumbent worker training strategies, so that the industry can advance the skills of its workers internally as technology continues to advance at such a fast pace,” DeRocco said.




While part of this lifelong learning is certainly the pursuit of certification, DeRocco said that certification testing must be one piece of the puzzle and not the entire picture. She explained, “All too often we have looked at certification as the be-all and end-all in IT workforce training, and it’s clearly a much more holistic look now at the worker, at the worker’s responsibilities, at the worker’s growth within a company and contribution to the company.” 




The forum also looked at high-growth industries that are currently offering or are expected to offer a growing number of IT positions. Around 92 percent of all IT professionals work in non-IT companies, including health care, real estate, insurance and financial services firms, and 80 percent of those professionals are employed by small companies. DeRocco said that while IT skills are needed across all sectors, there are some emerging industries that have a growing need for IT workers. These include biotechnology, nanotechnology and geospatial technology, she said. “At its core, the need is for basic information technology skills and understanding with a sophistication in the advanced manufacturing arena that is represented by all these emerging industries,” DeRocco said. “Clearly this is a cross-industry fertilization in terms of our need to skill workers on a career lattice rather than a career ladder because jobs and roles aren’t vertical anymore; they are very much cross-industry, and the IT workforce’s future in large measure may be in these emerging industries.” In these emerging industries, IT workers have the potential to be part of the technical teams that will drive the new businesses growing out of work in laboratories and universities all across the country, she added.




DeRocco also emphasized her concern for American workers in a time of growing concerns surrounding outsourcing and offshoring of IT jobs, but she added that reskilling and building on existing skills are the best path to IT job security. “We want American workers gainfully employed. The president said one unemployed worker is one too many. It puts a heavy burden on us to make sure that America’s workers have the skills they need to succeed,” DeRocco said. “Skills development is very much a part of addressing the outsourcing issue if we can reskill workers in transition—make sure there’s a pipeline of new workers for the emerging industries. America has always been at the cusp of innovation and entrepreneurial enterprise, and it is that direction that we need to ensure that we are equipping America’s workers with the skills they need to succeed.”




Last week’s IT Executive Forum was the first of several sessions that are planned across the United States to help shape the Labor Department’s High Growth Job Training Initiative. As part of this initiative, the department conducts industry research to identify expanding industries, convenes forums to determine workforce gaps and, partnering with employers, educational institutions and workforce leaders, creates plans to address business needs. The Labor Department spent nearly $7 billion on training programs for U.S. workers in the year ending June 30, 2003.




“We’re at the very beginning of this process,” DeRocco told CertMag. “We have two more executive forums and then we will have an opportunity with the industry and with educators to begin to design some solutions that we’re fully prepared to support financially and with our team’s expertise and energy to see if we can’t continue to advance the skills of America’s IT workforce.”




To learn more about the Department of Labor’s employment and training programs, see http://www.doleta.gov. To learn more about CompTIA’s various workforce initiatives and other programs, visit the CompTIA Web site at http://www.comptia.org.



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