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Casting calls for digit crews

Silicon Valley and Hollywood can't find enough "digital workers" with new media skills, so they're going to help make some of their own.

Business leaders from Silicon Valley and Hollywood announced a new initiative today designed to better prepare "digital workers" for the multimedia and entertainment industries.

This summer's crop of blockbuster movies attests that special effects were indeed the stars. In Twister, computer-generated tornadoes rip across rural landscapes. But as demand rises for these kinds of special effects in films, Web sites, CD-ROMs, and games, Silicon Valley and Hollywood alike are facing a shortage of creative "digital artists."

To address the shortage, Joint Venture: Silicon Valley Network, the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, and the Bay Area Economic Forum have joined forces to form a group called SkillsNet.

"Companies are finding that there aren't enough trained digital artists. There are indications that a number of companies have had to go outside of California not only to find and recruit people, but also to set up operations, [sometimes] outside of the country," said Kathryn Swafford, executive director of SkillsNet.

The organization will work first on determining which skills and training are most needed by new media employers. Longer-term projects include developing a Web site that will help educate workers about what companies are looking for and what additional training would be needed to get workers hired.

A council of executives from companies such as Silicon Graphics Incorporated, Warner Brothers, and Walt Disney Feature Animation will provide input on these and other programs. The state of California is funding part of the program, but Swafford points out that the bulk of the support comes from private industry.

"This is an industry-driven project," she said. "This is to fill a need on the demand side of the [labor market] equation."