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IT workers scarce by 2005

A shortage of information technology workers, expected by 2005, may pose a risk to the U.S. economy, reveals a government report.

A shortage of information technology workers, expected by 2005, may pose a risk to the U.S. economy, according to a government report released today.

The report, "America's New Deficit: The Shortage of Information Technology Workers," examines the potential for a shortage of information technology workers in the United States as well as the critical impact that shortage could have on the nation's economy. The Office of Technology Policy, an agency of the Commerce Department's Technology Administration, issued the report.

It seems evident that America will soon lack a supply of qualified "core" IT workers, such as computer scientists and engineers, systems analysts, and computer programmers, the government said in the document. Since the shortage of IT workers is becoming a global problem, U.S. employers will face tough competition to hire and keep highly skilled IT employees.

As a result of newly created jobs and other vacancies, the agency estimates that the United States will require more than 1 million IT core workers by the year 2005. This shortage in IT workers will affect not only computer and software industries, but also manufacturing and services, transportation, health care, education, and government, according to the document.

If not reversed, these shortages could undermine the United States' economic performance, the Office of Technology Policy concluded in the paper.

IT recruiters said they are not surprised by the report and attribute the possible shortage to the increased presence of software in most areas of everyday life.

Although it's a dark forecast, Greg Selker, vice president and principal with executive search firm Christian & Timbers, isn't surprised by the government's findings either. "It makes a lot of sense. Look at the invasion of software into every aspect of our lives right now. The information age has arrived."

However, those releasing the report point to the new century. The anticipated shortage is also driven by the amount of technology jobs created by the Year 2000 problem, said Rene Edwards, a spokesperson for the Commerce Department, which oversees the Office of Technology Policy.

Edwards said, "The Year 2000 problem is being fixed by IT workers who know the old codes like COBOL, which is not being taught in school today, so older professionals are getting the work. In the future, the Internet, HTML, and new software will change the whole way we use information globally."

She said the report found that COBOL programmers are not being replaced by HTML workers. "So it's a combination of the new technologies and attrition" of the IT workforce.

Selker cited academia as another possible reason for the shortage. He said that universities and technical institutes have only just begun turning out certified Windows NT administrators and other highly skilled technicians, for instance.

Also, Selker added, if given a choice of careers, the majority of people would still pick law, medicine, or engineering over computer science. "It's cultural awareness. Parents still say they want their son or daughter to be a doctor, not computer scientist."

Another report released earlier in the month, done by RHI Consulting, a firm that specializes in placing temporary technology workers, found that 27 percent of chief information officers surveyed said they planned to increase their IT staff by the end of the year. That figure is up slightly from 26 percent during the second half of the year, as Year 2000 problems and networking fueled the need to hire more IT workers.