Yes, The Tech Skills Shortage Is Real - InformationWeek

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1/9/2008
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Yes, The Tech Skills Shortage Is Real

The IT skills famine plaguing the United States is only going to get worse.

The demand for IT skills has become ubiquitous across every industry globally. The market for IT professionals is strong and is still the fastest-growing sector in the U.S. economy, with more than a million new jobs projected to be added between 2004 and 2014. Five of the 30 occupations projected by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics to grow the fastest by 2016 are IT-related, led by network and data communications analysts, software engineers, and systems analysts.

The growth in IT-related positions is driven by new opportunities to leverage technology in the organization, and by businesses recognizing the impact that IT can have on revenue. Another important factor contributing to the growth in demand for IT talent is beginning to appear in news headlines: "By 2010, 40% of the U.S. workforce is set to retire." The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that in 2010, there will be 52% more people in the 55-to-64 age bracket than there were in that age group in 2000. Organizations will face significant knowledge loss because of retirements over the coming decade.

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But is there an IT talent shortage? Yes. Skilled IT professionals are scarce already, and the short supply is stressing organizational growth plans. Add to this the impending baby boomer retirement bubble, and the situation worsens. As 70 million baby boomers exit the workforce in the next 15 years, only 40 million people will enter the workforce. McKinsey & Co. predicts that over the next three decades the demand for experienced IT professionals between the ages of 35 and 45 will increase by 25%, while the supply will decrease by 15%.

U.S. IT executives have reported their concerns about the talent shortage of qualified American job seekers, and they have been largely ignored. As far back as 1998, the Society for Information Management (SIM) stated that educational institutions, organizations, and government must "take decisive action now" to address the shortage of skilled IT pros. Nine years down the road, IT leaders still report that their greatest challenge is recruiting the right IT people and then developing and retaining them. In a 2007 SIM survey of 130 senior IT execs, 51% cited "attract, develop, and retain IT professionals" as a top concern, more than any other factor.

Americans don't appear to be rushing to gain the IT-related skills that organizations are looking for. The National Center for Education finds that only 13% of graduate degrees awarded in the United States are science degrees. Undergraduate enrollments in computer science between 2001 and 2006 dropped 40%. Educators in K-12 school systems have reported declines in math and science competence in their graduates. Close to a third of all teenagers drop out before they graduate from high school. Public school teachers and counselors are unable to communicate the opportunities available in IT. Parents aren't encouraging children to get into the IT field because of the dot-com failures and inaccurate media reports about all IT-related jobs going to India. Children are left disinclined to pursue an IT career.



Students, parents, and counselors don't recognize IT career potential

-- Jerry Luftman, Stevens Institute of Technology, Society for Information Management
Nearly 70% of middle school teachers lack education and certification in mathematics, let alone computer and business skills, the National Center for Education finds.

Some suggest that organizations should leverage the talent of foreign students being educated in the United States. However, that pipeline's getting weaker, too. In 2007, American colleges and universities received 27% fewer graduate applications from international students than in 2003. F-1 visas issued to international students fell 10% between 2001 and 2005. All of these factors are contributing to a famine in IT-related skills in the U.S. marketplace.

Also, because of quotas, U.S. organizations haven't been able to bring skilled foreign IT professionals on temporary visas and green cards into the country. In a significant move, the European Union is pushing to provide "blue cards" aimed at attracting foreign-born IT pros to combat the shortage of tech talent in that region. If successfully implemented, the blue cards would apply in all 27 EU member states, increasing their economic competitiveness.

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