Experts Examine Shortage of Information Technology Workers

By Weingarten, Rick | American Libraries, March 1998 | Go to article overview

Experts Examine Shortage of Information Technology Workers


Weingarten, Rick, American Libraries


Experts from industry, government, and academia met January 12-13 at the Claremont Hotel in Berkeley, California, to discuss the shortage of information technology workers in the United States, a burgeoning issue for librarians.

The National Information Technology Workforce Convocation was cosponsored by the School of Information Management and Systems at the University of California/Berkeley, the Information Technology Association of America (ITAA), and the U.S. Department of Commerce. Secretary of Commerce Bill Daley, Secretary of Education Richard Riley, Deputy Secretary of Labor Kitty Higgens, and several other senior administration officials spoke. Vice-president Al Gore participated via videotape. Despite the UC/Berkeley sponsorship, however, the convocation included virtually no representation from libraries.

The meeting and its timely topic received front-page coverage in several newspapers and network news broadcasts. The issue has been gaining attention over the past year, and last spring ITAA released Help Wanted: The IT Workforce Gap at the Dawn of a New Century. The report claimed a current gap of 190,000 untilled jobs and projected that over one million new jobs would be created in the industry by the year 2004.

Big job growth projected

Some experts criticized the report's methodology, but its message was supported by testimonials from industry executives and data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics that projected big job growth in the information technology sector.

The Commerce Department's Office of Technology Policy (OTP) took a closer look and issued its own report, America's New Deficit: The Shortage of Information Technology Workers. OTP narrowed ITAA's broad definition of IT workers to so-called core information technology professions: computer scientists, computer engineers, systems analysts, and computer programmers.

People in the library field and related information professions objected (AL, Dec. 1997, p. 28) to the exclusion of librarians from any definition of "information technology worker" simply for the analytical convenience of definitions that fit the models used for labor market projections.

The OTP report set the stage for the January conference, at which administration officials, corporate executives, and educators testified to the urgency of the problem for high-tech industry. (The Northern California meeting site was not accidental!)

Researchers from Virginia Polytechnic Institute reported on a follow-up study conducted in collaboration with the ITAA. Like the ITAA study, this one focused on counting job vacancies, but it also looked at a broader range of firms - from user sectors as well as from the IT industry. …

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