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IT's 'Self-Fulfilling Prophecy'

Whether or not we're already mired in a tech talent shortage, the United States needs to commit itself to producing a deeply knowledgeable and highly motivated IT workforce or we will find ourselves without the expertise needed to keep our tech industry competitive, says Stevens Institute's Jerry Luftman.

John Soat

January 18, 2008

3 Min Read

Whether or not we're already mired in a tech talent shortage, the United States needs to commit itself to producing a deeply knowledgeable and highly motivated IT workforce or we will find ourselves without the expertise needed to keep our tech industry competitive, says Stevens Institute's Jerry Luftman.This week's package of articles about the debate over a tech talent shortage in the United States generated quite a bit of feedback, some of it quite passionate and strongly opinionated. The author of one part of that package, Jerry Luftman, associate dean and distinguished professor at the Stevens Institute of Technology, sent me an e-mail pointing out that the issue should not be trivialized through over-reaction and simplification. He also defended his institution -- and himself -- from some overheated criticisim. Here's what Professor Luftman wrote:

I am delighted about the attention that the article has received. The purpose of the article is to present the fact that we face a significant problem in the United States if we all (industry, academia, government, vendors) do not work together to ensure that we motivate young people to pursue a rewarding career in information technology. If we do not act, it will become a "self-fulfilling prophecy" and the IT market will go overseas. This is not propaganda, but fact; it is not self serving but a sincere call to arms.

There is significant evidence (from government, academia, and research organizations) that IT is the place to be for the foreseeable future. In addition to the current and emerging gap in the number of IT career opportunities versus the number of qualified candidates, IT salaries have been on the rise. If the jobs are not filled by United States candidates they will have to be filled elsewhere; hence the self fulfilling prophecy that unfortunately too many people still perceive.

In addition to recognizing the growing demand and higher salaries for IT professionals, it is fundamental to ensure that universities prepare candidates with the changing skills that are required to have a successful career. The qualities for today's IT professional go beyond the traditional technical skills. They demand strong competencies in business, management, industry, communications (writing, presenting, negotiating, and marketing), project management, and teams.

I would be remiss if I did not briefly comment on the one retort that inappropriately discussed the Stevens IS Program. The Stevens program is likely one of the largest in the world, with almost 1,000 graduate students. With 21 different IT concentrations/career tracks, our graduates receive an appropriate balance of the skills (discussed above) necessary to have a successful IT career. 80% of our students are sponsored by their company and average about 10 years of experience. Most of these programs are held at corporate locations in the New York/New Jersey area. Different organizations provide different levels of tuition support for their employees, and we are very flexible in accommodating all of them. Of the remaining 20%, about half are from all parts of the world; the remaining are from the United States. All applicants receive the same quality education and consideration for support.

Last, the innuendo regarding my not being a strong advocate for enhancing the education system in the United States is out of line. I spend considerable personal time as a long-term active member of many leading academic and practitioner organizations working on programs to ensure that the United States is in a position to maintain its leadership role in information technology.

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