Business Technology: Funds Misdirected In Apprentice Program - InformationWeek
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Bob Evans
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Business Technology: Funds Misdirected In Apprentice Program

Here are four facts you should know about McDonald's Corp.:

  • Annual systemwide sales for the hamburger chain will top $40 billion.
  • Every day, McDonald's serves 46 million customers.
  • The chain has 30,000 restaurants in 100 countries.
  • Your tax dollars subsidize training in its IT department.
  • I am not making this up. As the saying goes, "Only in America."

    We have the U.S. Department of Labor to thank for this tortured application of what someone, somewhere, in some parallel and totally inscrutable universe, would call "logic." So please suspend your disbelief for a moment as we explore the public funding of IT training programs within one of the largest and most widely recognized retail chains on the planet. (You can also check out the news item we ran last week that sparked my curiosity about this subject in "Developing IT's Future".)

    As I understand it, this all started more than two years ago when the Department of Labor decided it would be a good thing for the IT profession to have an apprenticeship program. You see, the government agency felt that since the field of business technology is relatively new--only about 40 years old--it hadn't yet had a chance to develop an apprenticeship program and therefore needed to have an apprenticeship program, and who better to tell private industry what it needs than the Labor Department? So Labor contacts an industry organization called the Computer Technology Industry Association, known as CompTIA, and they chat about it, and Labor likes where the conversation's going, so it gives CompTIA $550,000 to spend 20 months--20 months!!--exploring and assessing whether such a program would work in the IT field and also setting up such a program for IT generalists.

    A little more than a year later, in July 2002, Labor decides it likes the progress being made by CompTIA and gives it $475,000 to spend the next 18 months--yes, a year and a half--to develop additional apprenticeship tracks, including project management, and to establish pilot programs, which is where McDonald's enters the picture. The company, which has 10 apprentices in the program this year and hopes to have the same number in each of the next two years, will not disclose how much public funding it has received via CompTIA.

    Other Voices
    "The rally is far in excess of where it should be," says Robert Gensler, manager of the $54.2 million T. Rowe Price Global Technology Fund. "Fund managers don't want to underperform or be left behind, so you see something of a seller's strike."

    -- From a June 20 Wall Street Journal story on the recent runup in tech stocks

    And the amount is really not the point--the larger issue is this: If Labor feels compelled to get involved, then its overwhelming priority should be to help the tens of thousands of folks in this field who have lost their jobs and are desperately trying to reenter the workforce. I don't want to sound like a public scold, but this apprenticeship program with its subsidies for private enterprises is utterly ridiculous. The $1 million already dumped into it, plus the $2.8 million more awarded last week, plus the matching $3.8 million CompTIA has pledged over the next five years, would be much better spent in trying to set up some sort of clearinghouse that attempts to match out-of-work professionals with job openings. Or in encouraging more high-school students to study math and physics, and more college students to blend their studies of computer science with business, marketing, finance, logistics, or industrial engineering.

    We all know what the road to hell is paved with, and no doubt some of that very same surface material was somehow originally behind all this. But if McDonald's and other companies want better training for their IT employees, then those companies should build their own programs or hire some experts. And if Labor and CompTIA want to be engaged in the business-technology field, then they should focus their good intentions and their public funding on finding jobs for unemployed IT professionals.

    Bob Evans, Editor in Chief

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