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Building a Workforce for the Information Economy
any constraints on IT production and support—such as those that might arise from excessive tightness in the IT workforce—may have a pervasive impact on the growth of the economy.
The creation, acquisition, and management of information have emerged as the central focus of the new economy, a development contemporaneous with the shift in the mid- to late-20th century from a manufacturing to a services emphasis in both the United States and other developed nations. The primacy of information drives a continuing and growing need for information technology that supports the use of this information, and the scale, scope, and speed of the diffusion of information technology throughout the global economy—in developing and developed nations —are important drivers of economic change. This speed rewards adaptability and responsiveness for individual IT-sector firms. Rapid IT diffusion and business transitions also reduce the effectiveness of the market in reconciling labor supply and demand and the effectiveness of many putative policy solutions. Even when demand is growing, it takes time for technologically sophisticated workers to become adept at new skills. It also takes time for the promise and importance of the new information technology to motivate students and other workers to move into IT fields.
As the economy comes to depend on IT, the availability of IT workers has become a question of national importance. But perceptions of the IT labor market depend in large part on who perceives it. Employers often report that they cannot find qualified workers to fill their vacancies, especially when they are trying to hire systems designers, systems engineers, computer scientists, systems analysts, and programmers to design and build IT systems and applications. Many employers assert the existence of an IT labor “shortage” and additionally argue that if they are unable to hire qualified foreign workers to fill open positions, they will be at a competitive disadvantage in a global IT industry. At the same time, some job seekers find it difficult to obtain jobs in information technology, despite having credentials that they think should qualify them for employment. Some who are older (over 40) observe that the majority of IT workers are younger, and some assert the existence of widespread and rampant age discrimination in the IT industry. Some who are U.S. citizens observe that many IT workers are foreigners, and suspect that they are being displaced from good jobs by foreigners residing in the United States, particularly those who are in the United States under a special class of nonimmigrant visas known as H-1B visas. And it is apparent to all that relatively few women and non-Asian minorities are employed in IT jobs, compared with jobs in other sectors of the economy.
Policymakers are caught in the middle. While they recognize the important role that information technology has played in driving economic growth, they hear the concerns of both employers asserting critical