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8/6/2007
06:19 PM
Rob Preston
Rob Preston
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Can Fed Funds Encourage IT Training?

The business technology establishment generally prefers a hands-off government. But when it comes to cultivating their next-generation workforces, tech execs tend to fancy federal intervention on two broad fronts, one short-term, the other longer-term.

The business technology establishment generally prefers a hands-off government. But when it comes to cultivating their next-generation workforces, tech execs tend to fancy federal intervention on two broad fronts, one short-term, the other longer-term.First, there's overhauling the nation's immigration laws to make it easier for foreign IT pros to work in the United States -- a short-term solution. Second, there's freeing up more funds for tech education and research -- a longer-term one. With recent immigration reform proposals DOA in Congress, industry leaders have little choice but to think long term.

Congress is close to passing legislation that would set aside $43.3 billion from 2008 to 2010 for so-called STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) education and research. The funding would include scholarships and grants for students and teachers, as well as R&D money for small businesses and universities involved with "high-risk, high-reward, pre-competitive technology developments."

One of the biggest chunks of the bill would double over seven years, to $22 billion, funding for the National Science Foundation, with an emphasis on scholarships and teacher programs for STEM in grades K-12 and college.

Such government programs, when they produce fundamental shifts in behavior rather than just pander to special interests, are well and good. But if U.S. tech employers really want to take the long-term view, they'd be wise to invest themselves in their current workforces -- technical and business training, career development. More kids will get hooked on technology at an early age -- and stay hooked -- if they see a bright future for the profession through the wide eyes of their parents, aunts, uncles, family friends, and other mentors.

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