In a broad administration assault on a worsening problem facing U.S. industry, two Cabinet departments unveiled initiatives Jan. 12 to help alleviate the critical shortage of skilled information-technology workers. The Dept. of Labor announced two new efforts: one, a plan to spend $8 million on a new Internet site on which companies can post job openings and workers can post their resumes; the other a $3 million grant program to fund activities by schools, businesses, and local governments to train laid-off workers in computer skills. The Dept. of Commerce, meanwhile, said it will provide $17 million in grants to "extend the benefits of advanced telecommunications and information technology" to poor Americans. It also plans to conduct four town-hall meetings around the nation for representatives of business, academia, state and local governments, and unions to discuss the issue.
The initiatives follow an announcement Dec. 10 by Vice President Gore and Education Secretary Richard W. Riley that says states will receive $425 million from the Dept. of Educations Technology Literacy Challenge Fund to help schools use technology to improve teaching and learning.
Early reaction to the Commerce and Labor Dept. initiatives comes from the National Assn. of Manufacturers, a Washington-based organization that last week listed education as its No. 1 priority. "The net needs to be cast wider and deeper on the skills-shortage issue," says President Jerry Jasinowski. "While computer programmers are in high demand, skilled-worker shortages are an across-the-board problem faced by most employers and a serious threat to the future competitiveness of American industry....The administrations initiative recognizes that a skills problem exists but fails to get to the heart of the matter. Focusing solely on worker skills does nothing to address the underlying problem of the lack of education of workers."