shortages of labor and IT workers who are not sharing fully in the benefits of the strong economy. The economic benefits of IT are compelling, and numerous government actions have celebrated and sought to nurture IT-related economic activity. But the rising expressions of concern about such side effects as possible age discrimination and other inequality of opportunity for U.S. IT workers are troubling for policymakers. What is needed is an objective analysis of today's circumstances and the likely conditions for tomorrow.
When Congress raised the H-1B visa quota on temporary immigrants in 1998 in response to industry's demand for skilled workers, it called for two studies. The first study, assigned to the National Science Foundation, was to investigate domestic high-technology workforce needs and sources of supply over the next 10 years. The second study, assigned to the National Academy of Sciences, was to investigate the status of older workers in the information technology field. Because these issues are so closely related, the National Science Foundation asked the National Academy of Sciences to address both subjects through the National Research Council process, which centers on the deliberations of a committee of diverse experts. That committee —the Committee on Workforce Needs in Information Technology—focused on IT workers, that subset of high-technology workers that has been at the core of H-1B and other policy controversies, with a complementary (though less detailed) consideration of biotechnology workers for contrast.
Given the divergent perceptions of the high-technology labor market, it was clear to the committee from the outset that an examination of future workforce needs in high technology had to be embedded in a larger context that went beyond the immediate political debate. What defines a labor shortage, and what evidence is needed to assert its existence? How is the IT labor market likely to evolve in the future? What are the current sources of workers, and how are these sources changing? What role do foreign workers play in the IT labor market? To what extent can education and training help to reduce employer difficulties in hiring? What is needed to tap previously untapped pools of potentially productive workers?
The committee sought answers to questions such as these by gathering statistical data, inviting experts to discuss the issues, holding public information-gathering sessions that were open to all in centers of high-technology employment, soliciting comments on a Web site, reviewing a wide range of published analyses and reports, and commissioning analytical papers. Its research underscored how little was truly known—as opposed to believed or hypothesized—about the IT workforce and how fragmented and inadequate is the knowledge base regarding the many component issues. Its deliberations were a microcosm of the larger policy debate, embracing both stakeholders and analysts. The committee's