National Academies Press: OpenBook

Building a Workforce for the Information Economy (2001)

Chapter: Longer-Term Strategies for Increasing the Supply of Qualified Labor: Training and Education

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Suggested Citation:"Longer-Term Strategies for Increasing the Supply of Qualified Labor: Training and Education." National Research Council. 2001. Building a Workforce for the Information Economy. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9830.
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7

Longer-Term Strategies for Increasing the Supply of Qualified Labor: Training and Education

This chapter examines two groups of strategies for increasing the supply of IT workers in the United States (A third class of strategy, the use of more foreign workers domestically and abroad, is discussed in Chapter 5.) More precisely, these are strategies for facilitating an expansion in supply.1 The first group includes various forms of “formal” education, ranging from K-12 through higher education. Most of these are long-term strategies, which take anywhere from 2 to 20 years to be effective. However, some educational programs in community colleges, proprietary schools, and vendor-oriented courses can produce results in a few months or less. The second group, which overlaps to some extent with the first, comprises worker training.

7.1 THE ROLE OF FORMAL EDUCATION

Any systemic approach to relieving tightness in IT labor markets must include education and training for a variety of IT occupations. As noted in Chapter 2, IT career pathways are highly variable. A few individuals enter the IT workforce directly from high school, or with minimal additional training such as preparation for vendor certification. More com-

1  

As noted in Chapter 5, any increase in the number of qualified workers has the effect of dampening wage growth. But from an overall national perspective, it is less controversial politically for a U.S. worker who loses a job (for example) to lose it to another U.S. worker than for him or her to lose it to a foreign worker.

Suggested Citation:"Longer-Term Strategies for Increasing the Supply of Qualified Labor: Training and Education." National Research Council. 2001. Building a Workforce for the Information Economy. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9830.
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monly, individuals acquire both technical and foundation skills by completing an associate's degree at a community or technical college. The majority of Category 1 workers complete at least a bachelor' s degree before beginning their IT careers. Other routes include the military, government-funded worker training or “upskilling” programs, targeted programs for special populations, corporate education, and local initiatives (e.g., industry-educational consortia).

Career paths in the IT field can be highly fluid. Individuals can start out as programmers and subsequently become systems analysts or integrators, database developers, or even Web site designers. Some enter IT from seemingly unrelated occupations or professions. Creativity and innovation, two skills often found in people trained in the arts, are highly transferable to software development. Artistic design and spatial abilities can often transfer from architecture or commercial art or drafting to Web page design. Theatre majors can be found leading software development teams. Nevertheless, certain transition paths within IT are highly unlikely because the “before ” work is too different from the “after” work (a point discussed in Section 7.2, “Training IT Workers”).

7.1.1 Secondary Education

As noted in Chapter 3, large increases in demand are forecast for Category 1 IT workers, who generally require high levels of formal education. It is axiomatic that preparation for such occupations involves adequate education, the first step of which is K-12 education that prepares students for college-level study of computer science, electrical engineering, and other IT-related fields. In addition to providing specific preparation for college-level study, the process of studying science and mathematics may help young people to develop foundational or core IT skills and abilities (discussed in Chapter 2) that they can take directly into certain Category 2 jobs or build upon in the course of additional study of IT-related topics.

In the discussion below, the committee focuses on secondary mathematics and science education, rather than primary or middle school education. The reason is that it appears to be at this level that the “average ” mathematics and science education in the United States is particularly weak (Box 7.1), although reform efforts have been under way at every level for at least a decade.2

2  

For example, in 1989 the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics published the first mathematics standards, Curriculum and Evaluation Standards for School Mathematics (Reston, Va.: NCTM), and the National Research Council released Everybody Counts: A Report to the Nation on the Future of Mathematics Education (Washington, D.C.: National Academy Press). In response to a request from the National Science Teachers Association, the National Research Council convened a committee of experts, leading to the publication in 1996 of National Science Education Standards (Washington, D.C.: National Academy Press).

Suggested Citation:"Longer-Term Strategies for Increasing the Supply of Qualified Labor: Training and Education." National Research Council. 2001. Building a Workforce for the Information Economy. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9830.
×

BOX 7.1 Educational Achievement of U.S. K-12 Students

One indicator of the science and mathematics achievement of K-12 students in the United States is found in the results of the Third International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS), conducted in 1995 and 1996.1 Overall, on this international assessment, U.S. students scored slightly above the international average in science and slightly below the average in mathematics. However, the results for 17-year-olds —those closest to entering the IT workforce—were worse than those of the younger students.2 In both mathematics and science, the U.S. 17-year-olds scored below the international average, and among the lowest, of the 21 countries participating. Overall, the performance of U.S. high school seniors in mathematics has been near the bottom in international comparisons over the past 30 years. Within the smaller group of 16 countries that participated in assessments of physics and advanced mathematics, the scores of U.S. 17-year-olds were among the lowest.

Other measures of the science and mathematics knowledge of U.S. students come from the National Assessment of Educational Progress, or NAEP, a nationally representative testing program involving students in grades 4, 8, and 12. The most recent NAEP results, from 1999, indicated that only a small fraction of students at each grade level were “proficient” in mathematics and science. 3

Like the TIMSS results, the NAEP results suggested that the performance of 12th graders in science and mathematics was lower than that of younger students. It is noteworthy, however, that a National Research Council committee found problems with the procedures used for standard setting and defining the cutoff between NAEP scores deemed “basic” and those that represent “proficient” performance.4 This committee's report suggested that the cutoff had been set too high, yielding results “that do not appear to be reasonable relative to numerous other external comparisons.”5 Although weak as an absolute measure of the science and mathematics achievement of U.S. students at any one point in time, NAEP scores can usefully reveal trends. Used in this way, NAEP results from 1990, 1992, 1996, and 1999 indicate that student achievement in mathematics increased significantly over that time period.

The science and mathematics achievement of younger U.S. students appears greater than that of older students. In contrast to the weak performance of high school seniors in the TIMSS, U.S. fourth graders scored above the international average in both mathematics and science, and their science performance was second highest among the 26 countries participating.6 However, U.S. eighth graders' performance in both mathematics and science was squarely in the middle among the 25 countries participating.

What are the implications for the future IT workforce when younger U.S. students perform better on science and mathematics assessments than older students? One interpretation is that today's fourth graders will be tomorrow's IT workers, with a strong mathematics and science base to draw on. On the other hand, if the current pattern of declining test scores with age persists, these youngsters may perform more poorly in mathematics and science as they near high school graduation —just at the time when they might prepare for college-level IT study and/or for IT work.

1  

The TIMSS assessed students at ages 9, 13, and 17 using a combination of multiple-choice questions and open-ended exercises. The study was designed to overcome a problem of previous international comparisons, in which test scores from a broad general population of U.S. high school students were compared with scores of the few students enrolled in elite, college preparatory schools in other countries. Each country participating in the TIMSS was required to administer the test to a broad sample of school classes chosen to reflect the characteristics of the country's overall population. Forty-one countries participated in the assessment of 13-year-olds, 26 in the assessment of 9-year-olds, and 21 countries assessed their 17-year-olds. As reflected in its name, the TIMSS is the third in a series of such international assessments.

2  

U.S. Department of Education. National Center for Education Statistics. 1998. Pursuing Excellence: A Study of U.S. Twelfth-Grade Mathematics and Science Achievement in International Context. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office.

3  

For example, in 1999, 97 percent of U.S. 12th graders had an initial understanding of the four basic operations of arithmetic and 61 percent could perform moderately complex procedures and reasoning (such as a basic understanding of number systems). However, only 8 percent had the reasoning skills to solve multistep problems such as those that involve algebra (U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics. 2000. National Assessment of Educational Progress, 1999: Trends in Academic Progress. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office).

4  

Pellegrino, James W., Lee R. Jones, and Karen J. Mitchell, eds. 1999. Grading the Nation's Report Card: Evaluating NAEP and Transforming the Assessment of Educational Progress. Washington, D.C.: National Academy Press.

5  

Pellegrino et al., 1999, Grading the Nation's Report Card.

6  

U.S. Department of Education. National Center for Education Statistics. 1997. Pursuing Excellence: A Study of U.S. Fourth-Grade Mathematics and Science Achievement in International Context. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office.

Suggested Citation:"Longer-Term Strategies for Increasing the Supply of Qualified Labor: Training and Education." National Research Council. 2001. Building a Workforce for the Information Economy. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9830.
×
The State of Secondary Education

As noted above, it is important to the future of the IT workforce that the curriculum of secondary school mathematics and science provide a strong foundation for later study and training in IT and IT-related sub-

Suggested Citation:"Longer-Term Strategies for Increasing the Supply of Qualified Labor: Training and Education." National Research Council. 2001. Building a Workforce for the Information Economy. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9830.
×

jects. And yet, secondary mathematics and science education common in most U.S. secondary schools today may discourage some students from pursuing further IT education or training, because it does not provide the cognitive and intellectual base for learning about IT and IT-related subjects.3 For example, only a small fraction of U.S. secondary school students demonstrated an ability to integrate mathematical concepts and procedures to solve complex problems (see Box 7.1). Such skills are essential for any advanced study of IT.

A second example is the fact that the traditional high school mathematics curriculum, especially for college-bound students, is directed toward the study of calculus. But calculus, oriented toward continuous representations, does not generally speak to discrete mathematical representations or their manipulation. From the point of view of specific content, discrete mathematics is generally more useful than continuous mathematics as a foundation for most software-oriented IT work (graphics is a notable counterexample).4

Much of the science in secondary education is similarly disconnected from IT career paths. For example, the Northwest Center for Emerging Technologies found that the work involved in several groups of IT careers did not require the discipline-specific knowledge associated with the biology, chemistry, earth science, or physics courses that characterize the typical high school science sequence.5 Rather, individuals in these careers made extensive use of modeling, logical thinking, problem solving, and intellectual discipline—abilities developed in the course of studying science.6

3  

Joint Venture: Silicon Valley Network. 1999. Joint Venture's Workforce Study: An Analysis of the Workforce Gap in Silicon Valley. Palo Alto: Joint Venture: Silicon Valley Network. Available online at <http://www.jointventure.org/initiatives/edt/work_gap/home.html>.

4  

At the same time, study of advanced high school mathematics may help some young people develop logical thinking and quantitative reasoning skills that are essential to many types of IT work. See, for example, Adelman, Clifford. 1997. Leading, Concurrent, or Lagging: The Knowledge Content of Computer Science in Higher Education and the Labor Market. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Education.

5

Northwest Center for Emerging Technologies (NWCET). 1999. Building a Foundation for Tomorrow: Skill Standards for Information Technology. Bellevue, Wash.: NWCET, pp/23-24.

6

A major exception to these comments is IT career paths that involve hardware. For such careers, continuous mathematics and physics are highly relevant, because these subjects are the basis for future work in design topics such as circuit theory and chip design. In light of the growing demand for IT hardware workers, it is perhaps worrisome that in 1996, 14 percent of high school graduates took precalculus or third-year algebra but only 7 percent took calculus. (See National Assessment of Educational Progress. 1996. Student Work and Teacher Practice. U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics.) Nevertheless, a grounding in discrete mathematics is relevant as well for much hardware-oriented work.

Suggested Citation:"Longer-Term Strategies for Increasing the Supply of Qualified Labor: Training and Education." National Research Council. 2001. Building a Workforce for the Information Economy. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9830.
×

Accordingly, the contribution of secondary science and mathematics education to addressing tightness in the IT workforce is likely to be measured by the extent to which that education can promote the exercise and development of cognitive abilities such as logical thinking, problem solving, analysis, careful observation, and data management. These abilities are highly valued in the workplace, and they are vital to successfully performing both Category 1 and Category 2 IT work.7

Finally, in addition to providing the foundational skills and abilities for those entering postsecondary education in IT disciplines, secondary education can also prepare some students to enter certain Category 2 IT jobs directly. Some properly prepared high school students are hired into occupations such as network technician, Web page author, and help desk technician. As part of that preparation, some high schools offer courses leading to vendor certifications (see discussion in Section 7.1.5). However, high school preparation alone can rarely provide an adequate foundation for movement directly into Category 1 IT jobs.

Access to IT in the Classroom

The committee believes that early exposure to computers may help spark long-term interest in IT careers and encourage students to seek the education necessary to prepare for them.8 Over the past decade, U.S. public schools have made great progress in obtaining access to information technology, though as noted in Chapter 6, the progress is not uniform among various socioeconomic classes and ethnic categories. According to the U.S. Department of Education, the proportion of schools with Internet access has increased rapidly from 35 percent in 1994 to 89 percent in 1998, and 51 percent of instructional rooms had access to the Internet in 1998. Furthermore, the fraction of students using computers at school increased from 59 percent in 1993 to 69 percent in 1997.9

In addition, the IT sector has made major contributions to strengthening the IT dimension of K-12 education. For example, the Intel Corporation 's Teach to the Future program brings together IT companies including Microsoft, Hewlett-Packard, Premio Computer, and Intel in an effort to train 400,000 teachers in 1,000 days. In the next 3 years, Intel will

7  

Northwest Center for Emerging Technologies, 1999, Building a Foundation for Tomorrow: Skill Standards for Information Technology.

8  

The committee recognizes some controversy about this point, as some have argued that greater access to information technology in schools is not likely to produce larger numbers of people interested in IT careers.

9  

U.S. Department of Education. 1999. Digest of Educational Statistics. Available online at <http://nces.ed.gov/pubs2000/digest99/chapter7.html>.

Suggested Citation:"Longer-Term Strategies for Increasing the Supply of Qualified Labor: Training and Education." National Research Council. 2001. Building a Workforce for the Information Economy. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9830.
×

contribute $100 million in cash, equipment, curriculum development, and program management while Microsoft will add $344 million in software and program support.

Nevertheless, much more remains to be done. Most teachers lack the professional development and support (e.g., training and release time) needed to incorporate information technology into daily instruction, and as a result, significant numbers of such teachers either ignore the pedagogical uses of technology or use technology ineffectively. 10 Further, continual technological change, combined with public education 's limited financial resources, results in deployed educational technology that is often obsolete—making it difficult to use currently available resources to teach students about technology.

Young People's Views of Education and IT Careers

Young people's views and attitudes are related to both their academic achievement and their career choices, and these factors, in turn, influence the size of the future IT workforce. For example, one reason that most young people today do not consider IT careers may be a simple lack of information. Even in Silicon Valley, most students know little about IT careers and how to prepare for work in the industry. A 1999 survey of over 1,000 Silicon Valley eighth graders and high school juniors revealed that a higher proportion of students understood the careers of lawyer, doctor/nurse, farmer, administrative assistant, and sales and marketing than understood the careers of engineer or computer programmer.11 When asked what kinds of courses they thought were required for IT jobs, a large majority of the students indicated that computer courses would be useful, only about 15 per cent indicated that mathematics courses were important, and less than 3 percent responded that science courses would be useful.

The attitudes of young people toward mathematics are related both to their success in the subject and to their age, and these affective issues (including beliefs, attitudes, and emotions) influence both teaching practice and student learning in mathematics.12 Surveys and analysis of test

10  

See, for example, U.S. Congress, Office of Technology Assessment. 1995. Teachers and Technology: Making the Connection, Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, p. 2; and Seymour, Liz, 2000, “Teachers Online but Disconnected,” The Washington Post, March 18.

11  

Joint Venture: Silicon Valley Network. 1999. Joint Venture's Workforce Study: An Analysis of the Workforce Gap in Silicon Valley. San Jose, Calif.: Joint Venture: Silicon Valley Network.

12  

McLeod, Douglas B. 1992. “Research on Affect in Mathematics Education: A Reconceptualization, ” in Handbook of Research on Mathematics Teaching and Learning, Douglas A. Grouws, ed. New York: Macmillan.

Suggested Citation:"Longer-Term Strategies for Increasing the Supply of Qualified Labor: Training and Education." National Research Council. 2001. Building a Workforce for the Information Economy. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9830.
×

scores of U.S. school children suggest that students who perform well in mathematics have a positive attitude toward the subject.13 Recognizing the potential importance of affect, the goals of the national mathematics standards include helping students understand the value of mathematics and increasing student confidence.14 Surveys conducted in the 1980s and 1990s indicated that U.S. students ' attitudes toward mathematics and their confidence about the subject declined with age.15 In 1996, the fraction of students who agreed with the statement, “I like mathematics” declined from 69 percent at grade 4 to 56 percent in grade 8 and further still to 50 percent at grade 12.16

Student attitudes regarding mathematics may decline with age for several reasons. In elementary school, mathematics is a major component of the curriculum, and the curriculum is relatively easy. However, in middle school and high school, mathematics becomes increasingly difficult. At the same time, students are given a broader array of courses and subjects to choose from. Given this wider array of choices and the increasing difficulty of science and mathematics courses, many older students prefer other subjects. For example, in the small sample surveyed in Silicon Valley, students indicated that they most enjoyed art, drama, and speech courses. A much smaller fraction (about 16 percent) of students indicated that they most enjoyed mathematics courses, computer science courses, or physical education courses, and less than 10 percent indicated that science classes were their favorites. When asked why art, drama, and speech were their favorite classes, the most frequent response was that the class was “fun,” followed closely by “have strong interest.”

Beliefs as well as attitudes may affect motivation to study, to work hard, and to achieve in mathematics (and computer science). Many Americans believe that learning mathematics results primarily from ability rather than individual effort and freely admit ignorance of the sub-

13  

The relationship between attitude and achievement is complex, and current research suggests that there is not a direct causal relationship between the two. For example, Japanese students surveyed in the 1980s indicated that they disliked mathematics more than students in other countries, yet these students had very high mathematics achievement (McLeod, 1992, “Research on Affect in Mathematics in Education”).

14  

National Council of Teachers of Mathematics. 1989. Curriculum and Evaluation Standards for School Mathematics: Executive Summary. Reston, Va.: National Council of Teachers of Mathematics.

15  

McKnight, C.C., F.J. Crosswhite, J.A.J. Dossey, E. Kifer, J.O. Swafford, K.J. Travers, and T.J. Cooney. 1987. The Underachieving Curriculum: Assessing U.S. School Mathematics from an International Perspective. Champaign, Ill.: Stipes Publishing Company.

16  

Mitchell, Julia H., et al. 1999. “Student Work and Teacher Practices in Mathematics.” Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Education, Office of Educational Research and Improvement, March.

Suggested Citation:"Longer-Term Strategies for Increasing the Supply of Qualified Labor: Training and Education." National Research Council. 2001. Building a Workforce for the Information Economy. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9830.
×

ject.17 Several surveys conducted in the late 1980s indicated that U.S. students viewed mathematics as important, but difficult and based largely on memorization and on following rules. More recently, in 1996, the fraction of U.S. students who agreed that “everyone can do well in mathematics if they try,” declined from 89 percent at grade 4 to only 50 percent by grade 12.18 Such beliefs are not surprising in light of analyses that suggest traditional mathematics instruction has emphasized “low-level cognitive activity, such as memorizing and recalling, rather than high-level thinking, such as reasoning and problem-solving.”19 However, if students believe that most mathematical problems can be quickly and easily solved by following rules, they may be unwilling to persist in solving more challenging and unique problems.20 Furthermore, cognitive studies have shown that negative student beliefs about mathematics are correlated positively with an inability to solve unusual problems.21 Thus, current student beliefs—as well as the instructional and curricular approaches that reinforce such beliefs—may pose a barrier to developing the problem-solving, analytical, and reasoning skills that are essential to many types of IT work.

7.1.2 Higher Education—Baccalaureate

The discussion below focuses primarily on computer science in higher education. Such a focus is not intended to exclude discussion of other fields, such as information systems or computer engineering; however, in light of this report's focus on software-related fields (discussed in Chapter 1 and Chapter 2), it is the computer science discipline (which is broadly defined

17  

In 1989, the National Research Council called for changing the public 's beliefs about mathematics, in Everybody Counts: A Report to the Nation on the Future of Mathematics Education (Washington, D.C.: National Academy Press).

18  

Mitchell, Julia H., et al. 1999. “Student Work and Teacher Practices in Mathematics.” Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Education, Office of Educational Research and Improvement, March.

19  

Silver, Edward A. 1998. “Improving Mathematics in Middle School: Lessons from TIMSS and Related Research.” Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Education, Office of Educational Research and Improvement.

20  

Schoenfield and Silver, cited in McLeod, Douglas B. 1992. “Research on Affect in Mathematics Education: A Reconceptualization, ” in Handbook of Research on Mathematics Teaching and Learning, Douglas A. Grouws, ed. New York: Macmillan.

21  

McLeod, 1992, “Research on Affect in Mathematics Education: A Reconceptualization. ” However, as always, correlation does not necessarily imply causation. Thus, correlations cannot establish whether students who feel positively about mathematics are able to solve unusual problems or whether an inability to solve unusual problems causes students to feel negatively about mathematics.

Suggested Citation:"Longer-Term Strategies for Increasing the Supply of Qualified Labor: Training and Education." National Research Council. 2001. Building a Workforce for the Information Economy. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9830.
×

in a way that is intended to encompass associated fields such as software engineering) that speaks most directly to such workforce needs.

Content

As noted in Chapter 2, IT workers have many different types of backgrounds and many types of undergraduate education. However, formal education in computer science is often one important element of a good preparation for Category 1 IT work. Thus, before examining the supply of graduates with computer science degrees, it is important to look at the additional value that formal computer science education provides to IT workers.

The value of formal computer science education depends in part on the nature of the IT work in question. Category 2 work generally does not require the knowledge and skills provided by 4 years of college study in IT-related fields; however, those doing Category 1 work often require such knowledge for two distinct reasons.

One reason deals with short-term value, the second with long-term value. Formal computer science education provides knowledge and conceptual understanding that are relevant over a very wide range of applications. A person without formal computer science education may be able to undertake relatively small, but still useful, IT projects. And, because solving business problems often requires only basic solutions, these individuals can work in domains in which Category 1 IT professionals work. Indeed, in the early days of computing and information technology, an individual could go a long way inventing an entire system from scratch.22 However, the power and utility of formal computer science education are seen—and needed—only in the context of much larger projects.

  • Developers of programs to deal with “small” problems (e.g., with few variables) need not address issues of algorithmic complexity and how the run time of a program varies with the number of variables being addressed. But it is in the nature of some problems that the same algorithm applied to a larger number of variables will simply take too long, and changing from a slower processor to a faster processor will make essentially no difference at all. Someone with an understanding of algorithmic complexity will arrive at this conclusion much more rapidly, and is more likely to seek an alternative algorithm.

22  

These comments are echoed in Roberts, Eric, “Computing Education and the Information Technology Workforce,” a white paper provided to the Committee on Workforce Needs in Information Technology, March 2000.

Suggested Citation:"Longer-Term Strategies for Increasing the Supply of Qualified Labor: Training and Education." National Research Council. 2001. Building a Workforce for the Information Economy. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9830.
×
  • Developers of programs that manipulate small amounts of data are not generally concerned with efficiency of memory use. For example, for many problems involving small amounts of data, the use of simple arrays is quite convenient and entails little overhead. But the use of arrays may well not scale to problems using large amounts of data, and linked lists or other methods of arranging data may be much more effective despite the overhead they entail. Techniques for using linked lists are more likely to be encountered in the course of a formal computer science education than in the course of reading language reference manuals.

  • Developers of programs that are small or are intended for personal use are notorious for writing code that is undocumented and difficult to understand. Techniques for documenting programs and enhancing maintainability become essential for large programs and systems, and these techniques are likely to be encountered in the course of an individual's first team-based or project-based effort, whether in school or on the job.

It is possible for individuals lacking formal computer science background to do “small” or “basic” projects in or with information technology. But, as the above examples illustrate, when business requirements and problems involve more complex or larger solutions, individuals with formal computer science education become more valuable. Moreover, successful software projects now require much greater attention to project management and software engineering skills. These skills are taught and developed in formal IT undergraduate programs, and few individuals are likely to discover them on their own.23

The long-term value of formal computer science education is encapsulated in the old saying about giving a man a fish versus teaching him to fish. Although young relative to other disciplines, computer science has matured over the past 25 years, and today it is not simply a collection of isolated bits of knowledge. Over time, computer science course offerings have reflected a growing emphasis on theory, expansion of advanced topics, and differentiation of subfields. There is less emphasis on particular current technology and more on fundamentals. 24 As a result of this evolution, current computer science education provides the core knowledge and abilities needed for IT work to a much greater extent than the computer science education of 25 years ago. Thus, recognizing that current IT graduates can handle a wide variety of challenges, some current IT

23  

Roberts, 2000, “Computing Education and the Information Technology Workforce,” white paper.

24  

Adelman, Clifford. 1997. Leading, Concurrent, or Lagging: The Knowledge Content of Computer Science in Higher Education and the Labor Market. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Education.

Suggested Citation:"Longer-Term Strategies for Increasing the Supply of Qualified Labor: Training and Education." National Research Council. 2001. Building a Workforce for the Information Economy. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9830.
×

managers report that they would probably not hire themselves today, because they themselves lack the levels of education and/or experience now required.25 Today, a computer science degree imparts to students a deeper, more robust understanding of these fundamentals than would be generally possible without the benefit of formal education.

With this understanding, today's computer science graduates can approach product development in a more systematic manner. Often, when students receive undergraduate degrees from institutions with graduate research programs in computer science, they are exposed to promising technologies that will appear on the market in a relatively short time. And knowledge of fundamentals facilitates the learning of new technical skills—for example, understanding the concepts underlying object-oriented programming is an enabler for learning any new object-oriented programming language.

Just as today's IT graduates have skills needed by current labor markets, so also, according to one study, was that the case in the early 1990s. A survey of computer science graduates who entered IT occupations during the first half of the 1990s found that they spent much of their working time doing online computing and developing software.26 An analysis of the actual course transcripts of these workers while they were enrolled in computer science majors indicated that the subjects they studied had prepared them well for these activities.

Although one recent study has suggested that most employers do not view a 4-year degree as an important factor when hiring,27 employers appear to place a high value on formal IT credentials in many instances. For example, software companies often recruit quite intensively at computer science departments in top colleges and universities.28

Computing professional societies have helped to enhance the quality of formal computer science education. They have developed “model

25  

Salzman, Hal, “Information Technology Labor Markets,” commissioned paper prepared for the Committee on Workforce Needs in Information Technology, 2000. Note also that U.S. employers generally are requiring more extensive educational credentials, although the skill requirements of jobs have increased only slightly (Barton, Paul. 2000. “What Jobs Require: Literacy, Education, and Training, 1940-2006.” Princeton, N.J.: Eductional Testing Service, Policy Information Center).

26  

Barton, 2000, “What Jobs Require.”

27  

For example, when the ITAA conducted hundreds of interviews with hiring managers, it found that less than 20 percent mentioned college degrees as important qualifications (Information Technology Association of America. 2000. Bridging the Gap: Information Technology Skills for a New Millennium. Arlington, Va.: ITAA, April).

28  

Roberts, 2000, “Computing Education and the Information Technology Workforce,” white paper.

Suggested Citation:"Longer-Term Strategies for Increasing the Supply of Qualified Labor: Training and Education." National Research Council. 2001. Building a Workforce for the Information Economy. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9830.
×

curricula” and established criteria for accreditation of educational institutions. The Computer Science Accreditation Board (CSAB), cosponsored by the Association for Computing Machinery and the Computer Society of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, has a solid track record in this area. Although some of the most well-established and highly regarded computer science programs are not accredited,29 many institutions with newer programs have become accredited. As these newer programs have followed the CSAB curriculum guidelines and met other criteria for accreditation, their quality is believed to have improved. Thus, model curricula and accreditation are tools for improving institutional programs and raising the standards of formal computer science education.

At the same time, the fact that their graduates are in high demand does not mean that academic programs in computing are doing everything right.30 Academic departments in computer science and related disciplines are often criticized for a variety of perceived weaknesses, such as the following:

  • Devoting too much attention to theoretical topics with little practical application;

  • Allowing curricula to become out of date with respect to technological advancements in the field;

  • Providing students with far too little experience in the practical techniques of building large systems;

  • Offering poorly designed introductory courses that do not attract good students into the discipline; and

  • Failing to place sufficient emphasis on the nontechnical abilities that students need to work effectively in the field, including communication skills, management strategies, and the dynamics of working in a group.

As a rule, these criticisms point to a remaining gap between the academic curriculum and business practice, a point discussed at greater length in Section 7.3.

Finally, it is worth noting that college-level mathematics study almost inevitably begins with the study of calculus. While opportunities for

29  

Colleges and universities do not always seek accreditation of educational programs such as computer science that do not require a license to practice. They generally weigh the costs of accreditation against the benefits in terms of the perceived value accreditation will add to the degrees they award (Adelman, 1997, Leading, Concurrent, or Lagging? The Knowledge Content of Computer Science in Higher Education and the Labor Market).

30  

Roberts, 2000, “Computing Education and the Information Technology Workforce,” white paper.

Suggested Citation:"Longer-Term Strategies for Increasing the Supply of Qualified Labor: Training and Education." National Research Council. 2001. Building a Workforce for the Information Economy. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9830.
×

studying the mathematics most related to IT work are much more plentiful at the college level than at the high school level, students who take only a year of college mathematics are much more likely to have studied calculus than discrete mathematics. First-year mathematics courses that emphasize the mathematical topics needed for IT work may facilitate further study in IT more effectively than would courses in calculus.

Supply

Specialized baccalaureate education in IT plays a large role in preparing individuals for Category 1 IT occupations, such as systems analysts and computer scientists. Today, two tracks are common: a 4-year undergraduate degree in an IT-related field such as computer science, management information systems, or computer engineering and a 4-year degree in a technical field (e.g., electrical engineering, physics, mathematics) with substantial IT preparation. Less common are concentrated programs in IT for individuals already possessing bachelor's degrees. For example, George Mason University in Northern Virginia is just one of a few 4-year institutions that have begun to offer short “Transition to IT” curricula aimed at students who will have (or already have) a bachelor's degree in a non-IT field. Further, formal computer science education need not be limited to degree programs in computer science at all. Colleges and universities can also infuse IT throughout many different departments and courses, with the effect of helping those not receiving IT degrees to work in IT.

Among these tracks and alternative approaches, 4-year programs in IT fields provide the most focused preparation for future Category 1 IT workers. Over the past three decades, the overall educational qualifications of the IT workforce have increased as a growing proportion of positions have been filled with graduates who hold specialized IT degrees. For example, the supply of computer science graduates 31 grew dramatically between 1976, when fewer than 6,000 degrees were awarded, and 1986, when nearly 40,000 students graduated.32 In the late 1980s, the number of new graduates fell and then held constant for the early 1990s, a time coinciding with a relative downturn in the IT sector. New undergraduate enrollments in U.S. and Canadian computer science and computing engineering programs grew rapidly from 1995 through 1997, but

31  

Civil engineering and electrical engineering programs have also grown rapidly and provide another important source of graduates with specialized IT skills.

32  

Adelman, 1997, Leading, Concurrent, or Lagging? The Knowledge Content of Computer Science in Higher Education and the Labor Market.

Suggested Citation:"Longer-Term Strategies for Increasing the Supply of Qualified Labor: Training and Education." National Research Council. 2001. Building a Workforce for the Information Economy. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9830.
×

then fell and increased only slightly during the 1999-2000 academic year. 33 In 2000, an estimated 42,000 bachelor's degrees in computer science will be awarded by U.S. and Canadian institutions.34

As graduation rates for computer science majors have fluctuated, employers have used college graduates from a variety of disciplines to do Category 1 work. For example, in the early 1990s, only one-third of Category 1 IT workers (tabulated by Current Population Survey/Occupational Employment Survey) with bachelor's degrees had received those degrees in computer science or information science. The most common other majors were business management (28 percent) and engineering (12 percent). The majority of new graduates entering IT obtained degrees in other areas. Even as employers filled IT positions with nonspecialized college graduates, many graduates who did have IT degrees entered other fields.35 More recently (in the late 1990s), and likely in response to the same strong demand, more computer science degree holders (around 90 percent) appear to be entering IT jobs. The availability of more workers with specialized degrees is likely to support employers' preference for formal IT education when they are hiring individuals to perform Category 1 work.

Given that U.S. demand for workers capable of performing Category 1 work is projected to grow on the order of 8 percent per year through 2008, it will be important for institutions to develop ways of increasing the number of students with some formal education in computer science, such as through baccalaureate programs, minors, and areas of concen-

33  

Irwin, Mary Jane, and Frank Friedman. 2000. “Ph.D. Enrollment Levels Off: M.S. and Undergrad Continue to Rise, ” Computing Research News, March. Although undergraduate CS enrollments grew 10 percent in 1999-2000 compared to the previous year, this average growth was almost entirely due to the dramatic 99 percent increase in CS enrollments at Canadian institutions.

34  

Irwin and Friedman, 2000, “Ph.D. Enrollment Levels Off: M.S. and Undergrad Continue to Rise. ” These data are based on an annual survey of Ph.D.-granting departments, which projects 13,883 bachelor's degrees in both computer science (CS) and computer engineering (CE) during academic year 2000. Although both CS and CE departments were surveyed, the response rate from CE departments has been low in recent years, making the 13,883 number a more accurate measure for CS than for CE graduates. Historically, bachelor's degrees awarded by Ph.D.-granting departments have made up about one-third of all such degrees awarded nationally, yielding the estimate above of 42,000 CS graduates in the year 2000. Another data source—the National Center for Education Statistics' “Digest of Education Statistics 1999”—indicates that there were 219,000 computer science majors in academic year 1995-1996. If one-fourth of these were freshmen, and half of the freshmen successfully completed their degrees, the result would lead to a smaller estimate of 27,000 graduates in 2000.

35  

As noted in Chapter 2, 29 percent of those graduating with an IT-related bachelor's degree in 1993 took jobs outside the Category 1 IT workforce. By 1997, this fraction had diminished to 25.5 percent.

Suggested Citation:"Longer-Term Strategies for Increasing the Supply of Qualified Labor: Training and Education." National Research Council. 2001. Building a Workforce for the Information Economy. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9830.
×

tration. Such an increase depends on two factors—the availability of resources for educational institutions to teach additional students, and adequate preparation and interest in IT in a sufficient number of additional students.

The first factor involves resources. Today, resources (e.g., faculty, space, and possibly research funding) to support additional student enrollment in IT-related fields is likely more of a limitation than student interest in obtaining such degrees.36 Though the resources flowing to IT-related departments are increasing, university administrators are often hesitant to agree to a significant growth of regular IT-related faculty. Rapid growth in any one department upsets traditional balances among departments, and institutions may be reluctant to rapidly increase the number of tenured IT professors, who might not be needed if a downturn in demand were to occur. Because of these factors, it is unlikely that IT-related departments will be able to grow by as much as a factor of 2 over the next decade. Thus, even if qualified faculty were available, inadequate space and computing facilities would be a bottleneck to rapid growth. A second reason is that universities are having difficulty in attracting and retaining qualified computer science faculty; Box 7.2 describes some ways to find additional faculty to teach in IT-related fields.

The second factor involves the availability of additional qualified and interested students. As noted above, many young people lack information about IT careers and about education needed to prepare for such careers. Although public and private groups are attempting to fill this void, 37 more could be done to provide guidance about IT careers. Attracting more students from underrepresented populations by providing them with the financial resources needed to attend college and graduate school is another approach.38 The approaches used to attract students to IT

36  

An informal survey of the Forsythe list, consisting of all of the Ph.D.-granting institutions in computer science and computer engineering (most of which have undergraduate programs), suggests that lack of resources is the primary constraint on rapid increases in the production of new computer science majors. The committee inquired about “the rate-limiting factor on [the] department's ability to produce recipients of bachelor's degrees in computer science or computer engineering. ” The answers to this survey indicate overwhelmingly that resources, including instructors, professors, computers, and classroom facilities, are the rate-limiting factor, rather than the supply of interested and qualified students. The list includes some 200 institutions, and 80 or so answers were received.

37  

For example, the ACM's Committee on Women in Computing works with Girl Scout troops to spark interest in IT among young women, and the U.S. Department of Commerce has announced plans for a major advertising campaign to encourage teenagers to choose IT careers.

38  

For example, the Gates Foundation has donated $1 billion to support scholarships for minority students pursuing undergraduate and graduate degrees in science, math, engineering, education, or library science. See <www.gmsp.org>.

Suggested Citation:"Longer-Term Strategies for Increasing the Supply of Qualified Labor: Training and Education." National Research Council. 2001. Building a Workforce for the Information Economy. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9830.
×

BOX 7.2 Complements to Regular Tenure-Track Faculty

  • The use of adjunct faculty can supplement regular faculty. Though space (especially laboratory space) remains an issue, adjunct faculty can be engaged without long-term commitments, about which university administrators are nervous. Adjunct faculty drawn from industry have the additional advantage that they bring to the classroom substantial real-world business experience that provides valuable context for what students learn. And, by engaging IT professionals from industry, universities can begin to build stronger connections to potential employers of their students.1

  • Contract teaching faculty can be employed on a full-time but nontenurable basis. These individuals have no formal research duties and devote their entire university time to teaching. The fact that they operate on long-term contracts provides some stability for them, and also allows some accountability to students and administration as well.

  • Other, non-IT departments can hire faculty with IT backgrounds combined with other backgrounds. In a sense, computer science may become similar to mathematics in the 21st century, with departments in science and engineering (and elsewhere) using and teaching computer science applications. This is beginning to happen in some institutions. For example, the MIT aeronautics department is expanding into a “systems” department with an IT track. Cornell University is considering the creation of a school built around the computer science department with up to 10 joint appointments. Institutions that take such approaches can use faculty based in non-IT departments to do some of the teaching. Students graduating from these programs will be able to bring to their employment strong IT skills as well as substantive knowledge about important areas of application.

1  

The use of adjunct faculty can have downsides as well. For example, many believe that because the primary commitments of adjunct faculty do not lie with the educational institution, their students may well receive short shrift compared to the attention they might receive from regular faculty. To the extent that adjunct faculty rotate rapidly through the institution, students in later years do not receive the benefits of greater classroom seasoning in their teachers—adjunct faculty have less incentive to be responsive to student needs. Another serious issue is that adjunct faculty themselves may well be hard to find. If they come from the IT sector, the demand for them in the higher-education setting is likely to be greatest just at the time when they are busiest in their “day” jobs. Moreover, the pay offered such teachers is usually rather low, and many adjunct professors teach primarily for the intellectual stimulation and change of pace that the pedagogical setting offers. Finally, heavy reliance on adjunct faculty can have a significant effect on the administration of a program because there are fewer staff to do advising, searches for new faculty, plans for the future, and so on.

majors by historically black colleges and universities may provide useful lessons for other colleges and universities. Between 1989 and 1996, the fraction of graduates from majority U.S. colleges and universities majoring in computer science has been about half of the comparable rate from

Suggested Citation:"Longer-Term Strategies for Increasing the Supply of Qualified Labor: Training and Education." National Research Council. 2001. Building a Workforce for the Information Economy. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9830.
×

the historically black colleges and universities (Box 7.3). This fact suggests that higher rates of production are possible, not just for minority students, but for all students.

Of course, the issue is not only attracting more students, but also ensuring that interested students have the background necessary to study computer science. While many computer science educators believe that today's computer science students are, on average, adequately qualified for the departments' undergraduate programs,39 it is likely that these students have better mathematics and science backgrounds than the average college student. Thus, although colleges and universities can likely generate a moderate increase in the number of computer science students through increased information and awareness about a career in IT, it will likely be difficult for them to generate a large increase without a simultaneous effort to improve the students ' preparation for such studies. Such an effort would preferably be made at the high school level, as discussed above, but the models offered by the historically black colleges and universities also offer promising examples for other institutions.

Assuming an adequate supply of students qualified for and interested in studying IT-related fields, another way to increase the numbers of students who study IT is to increase the number of colleges and universities that offer computer science majors. Throughout the first half of the 1990s, just over 1,000 institutions offered degrees in computer or information science (out of a total of about 4,000 institutions in the United States).40 However, because the total number of U.S. colleges and universities that offer a general program is limited, it is unlikely that the total number of institutions offering computer science degrees could be increased by more than 20 per cent.41

For the foreseeable future, demand for individuals with CS degrees is likely to outstrip supplies of such graduates. However, because an individual's exposure to formal CS education is more important than a degree per se, relying on the number of domestic computer science degree recipients as the sole predictor of new entrants to the IT field is unwise as

39  

Based on results from a survey of the Forsythe list, which consists of all of the Ph.D.-granting institutions in computer science and computer engineering (most of which have undergraduate programs).

40  

Korb, Roslyn A., and Austin F. Lin. 1999. “Education Statistics Quarterly: Postsecondary Institutions in the United States: 1997-98.” National Center for Education Statistics, Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System, Fall. This source identifies 4,096 institutions as eligible for Title IV programs and that grant degrees.

41  

For example, in 1994-1995, 1,248 schools granted B.A.s in English and 1,383 offered degrees in business management out of a total of 1,855 4-year institutions in the United States. See Computing Research Association. 1999. “The Supply of Information Technology Workers in the United States.” Washington, D.C.: CRA, Chapter 5.

Suggested Citation:"Longer-Term Strategies for Increasing the Supply of Qualified Labor: Training and Education." National Research Council. 2001. Building a Workforce for the Information Economy. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9830.
×

BOX 7.3 Lessons in Promoting IT-Related Study from Historically Black Colleges and Universities

What might account for the differences in the fraction of science, engineering, and IT-related graduates between historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) and their majority counterparts?

Note that the interesting question suggested by Table 7.3.1 does not compare minority students at HBCUs to minority students at majority institutions; rather, it suggests a possible difference between the ways in which HBCUs and majority institutions approach the subject of attracting and retaining all students to science, engineering, and IT-related degree programs.

It may be true that the student population attracted to HBCUs is generally more professionally oriented than those drawn to majority educational institutions. Such an orientation would naturally lead to a preference for majors in the scientific and engineering disciplines, including computer science and other IT-related fields. At the same time, a substantial fraction of students attending majority institutions who express an interest in science or engineering majors do not complete their degrees in such fields.1

To understand what HBCUs might be doing differently than majority institutions to attract and retain students in computer science majors, it is useful to understand the traditional “pipeline” model on which much of science education is based. In this model, students pass through a series of barriers, designed to filter out individuals who are incapable of studying science at the next level of sophistication or advancement. At the end of the process, those who remain are those who are “fit” to enter the profession.2

The model employed by HBCUs (and a number of other institutions as well) is quite different. Rather than emphasizing the filtering process, the HBCU model stresses inclusion. Thus, the model calls for extensive outreach, mentoring, and continuing support from the institution as a whole as well as mechanisms for students to obtain support from their peers. Students are not left to fend for themselves, as might be implied by a pipeline model; instead, students who may be in academic difficulty are sought out and intellectual, academic, and emotional support offered.

1  

National Science Foundation. 1998. Science and Engineering Indicators. Arlington, Va.: National Science Foundation, p. 2-16.

2  

See, for example, Tobias, Sheila. 1990. They're Not Dumb, They're Different: Stalking the Second Tier. Tucson, Ariz.: Research Corporation.

TABLE 7.3.1 Differences in the Number of Science, Engineering, and IT-related Graduates at Historically Black Colleges and Universities and Majority Institutions

 

1989

1990

1991

1992

1993

1994

1995

1996

Majority-only institutions: Bachelor's degrees in all disciplines

1,010,423

1,042,214

1,086,334

1,126,471

1,153,105

1,155,673

1,146,064

1,150,044

CS bachelor's degrees

29,756

26,652

24,521

23,931

23,401

23,413

23,522

23,257

CS degrees as a percentage of all degrees

2.9%

2.6%

2.3%

2.1%

2.0%

2.0%

2.1%

2.0%

HBCUs: Bachelor's degrees in all disciplines

19,748

19,937

21,663

23,601

26,173

27,468

28,372

29,771

CS bachelor's degrees

1,207

1,043

889

923

1,076

1,045

1,140

1,148

CS degrees as a percentage of all degrees

6.1%

5.2%

4.1%

3.9%

4.1%

3.8%

4.0%

3.9%

Ratio of HBCU percentage to majority percentage

2.08

2.05

1.82

1.84

2.03

1.88

1.96

1.91

SOURCE: Data from National Science Foundation (see <http://www.nsf.gov/sbe/srs/srs99410/>).

Suggested Citation:"Longer-Term Strategies for Increasing the Supply of Qualified Labor: Training and Education." National Research Council. 2001. Building a Workforce for the Information Economy. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9830.
×

(It is useful to note that mentoring has been shown to help the recruiting and retention rates of women in computer science.3 And, studies indicate that mentoring women is best done by other women.4 Mentors can take the form of senior computer scientists, junior computer scientists, or peers. For example, a successful mentoring program5 matched female faculty with female graduate students, graduate students with undergraduate female students who were considering graduate studies, and local alumnae with the female undergraduate students who were not planning on continuing their academic careers. The goal of the mentoring relationships was to retain the women students as CS majors. Establishing mentoring relationships in this way allowed women at each level to be in contact with women at higher levels. In addition, graduate and undergraduate students reap the rewards of being mentors themselves, e.g., increased self-confidence.)

The essential elements of this inclusive approach have been documented in a number of reports. But the HBCU experience provides at least an indication that a systematic application of this more inclusive approach may have far-reaching effects on the production of computer science graduates across the board.

3  

Sturm, D., and M. Moroh. 1994. “Encouraging Enrollment and Retention of Women in Computer Science Classes,” Proceedings of the National Education Computing Conference, pp. 267-271.

4  

Sturm and Moroh, 1994, “Encouraging Enrollment and Retention of Women in Computer Science Classes”; Pearl, A., M. Pollock, E. Riskin, B. Thomas, E. Wolf, and A. Wu, 1990, “Becoming a Computer Scientist,” Communications of the ACM 33(11):47-57.

5  

Walker, E., and S. Rodger. 1996. “PipeLINK: Connecting Women and Girls in the Computer Science Pipeline, ” Proceedings of the National Education Computing Conference, pp. 378-384. SOURCE: This description of the HBCU approach is based on discussions with Samuel Meyers, Sr., Minority Access Inc., in April 2000.

Suggested Citation:"Longer-Term Strategies for Increasing the Supply of Qualified Labor: Training and Education." National Research Council. 2001. Building a Workforce for the Information Economy. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9830.
×

a matter of policy. Indeed, it is likely that employers will continue to fill many IT jobs with individuals lacking IT degrees as they have in the past, though they may well expect or require more formal CS education in these individuals than they did previously.

Finally, because of concerns raised in the United States about the influx of temporary nonimmigrant foreign workers holding H-1B visas originating from India, it is helpful to draw a comparison to the system that has developed in India to produce graduates trained in IT-related fields (Box 7.4).

7.1.3 Higher Education—Postbaccalaureate

Students can reach the master's level through multiple tracks. In particular, individuals with bachelor's degrees in other areas (usually technical) can earn master 's degrees in IT-related fields. Enrollment patterns during the 1980s led to an increased number of master's degrees from U.S. and Canadian institutions that became constant at about 10,000 for master's degrees. However, more new master's degrees have been awarded each year since 1997,42 and an estimated 12,500 such degrees were awarded in 2000. New enrollments in master's programs have increased dramatically over the past 2 years (24 percent in 1998-1999 and 26 percent in 1999-2000), so that more graduates can be expected.

In contrast to continuing growth in the production of master's degrees, the rate of Ph.D. production for U.S. and Canadian institutions has been essentially constant (approximately 1,100 per year) throughout most of the 1990s; the number of new Ph.D. graduates is expected to be 1,167 in 2000. Further, available data do not indicate that there will be significant increases in the number of Ph.D.'s awarded, as the enrollment in doctoral programs has leveled off.

The academic research enterprise in IT continues to be strong, but industry and academia are competing for the same small pool of highly productive, creative individuals.43 Ph.D. production and faculty recruitment and retention are both threatened by the lure of the commercial sector. Some faculty and graduate students are leaving academia for better-compensated positions in industry; others leave because only industry (especially start-ups supported by venture capital) offers them the opportunity

42  

Irwin and Friedman, 2000, “Ph.D. Enrollment Levels Off: M.S. and Undergrad Continue to Rise. ” As noted above, the low response rate from CE departments suggests that 12,500 is more accurate as an indicator of the number of CS master's degrees than as an indicator of both CS and CE master's degrees awarded.

43  

Roberts, 2000, “Computing Education and the Information Technology Workforce,” white paper.

Suggested Citation:"Longer-Term Strategies for Increasing the Supply of Qualified Labor: Training and Education." National Research Council. 2001. Building a Workforce for the Information Economy. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9830.
×

to pursue their intellectual and research interests. (All levels of higher education are threatened, but since Ph.D. students are so much smaller in number than others, the problem is most obvious at this level.) One recent survey found that, during 1997-1998, only about half of the open tenure-track positions were filled.44 And, compared to the benefits to be found in industry and start-ups, academic life—with the attendant burdens of low salaries, teaching, and the need to obtain grant support—is increasingly seen as unattractive to many graduate students. The long-term significance of these perceptions is at present unclear, but they do not bode well for the long-term health of the IT field. This is sometimes referred to as a “seed corn” problem, because the commercial sector is taking away the young talent (the “seed corn”) that would otherwise be used to train or “grow” a new generation of IT workers.

To some limited extent, Ph.D. degrees in computer science are not necessary to teach all courses in computer science at the undergraduate level. Just as faculty with backgrounds in psychology and engineering teach (applied) statistics courses, faculty in other departments can teach, for example, certain types of programming, or can help to team teach courses requiring cross-disciplinary work. And, of course, many existing faculties of computer science have senior individuals whose academic work predated formal computer science degrees. Nevertheless, the intellectual structure of computer science tends to be best taught by those who do have a formal background in the field.

A potential complicating factor is the increasing presence of foreign nonresidents enrolled in master's degree and doctoral programs in computer science in the United States. Compared to U.S. students, foreign students have particular incentives to enroll in U.S. graduate programs in IT-related fields. A student F visa is relatively easy to obtain and often provides a route to employment in the United States on an H-1B visa. Thus, U.S. graduate education can be an easy way for a foreign student to obtain a position in the United States that can pay much more than jobs in his or her home country. In addition, foreign students may be able to obtain support from their home countries for a master's program. And, because professorial positions tend to be more highly respected in many foreign countries than in the United States, foreign students may be more inclined to pursue Ph.D.s that are an essential prerequisite to such positions.

NSF data indicate that foreign students accounted for about 26 percent of all master's degrees awarded in 1985 in math, computer science,

44  

Roberts, 2000, “Computing Education and the Information Technology Workforce,” white paper.

Suggested Citation:"Longer-Term Strategies for Increasing the Supply of Qualified Labor: Training and Education." National Research Council. 2001. Building a Workforce for the Information Economy. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9830.
×

BOX 7.4 IT Education Policy in India

In India there has been a strong educational tradition for many centuries. Since independence from the British, India has invested heavily in education at all levels. Enrollment at the college level has reached about 6 million, comprising about 5 percent of the 17 to 23 age group.

IT Education at the College Level

The educational system in technical subjects (and generally) in India is highly stratified:

  • At the top are the five elite Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs), providing about 3,000 places per year. Entrance is extremely competitive. In IT fields nearly all graduates go to the United States for further education or employment.

  • At the next level down, there are 17 Regional Engineering Colleges (RECs). Again, entrance is extremely competitive. REC graduates who did not major in computer science and who wish to switch to computer science must pursue postgraduate degrees abroad or enroll in private schools.

  • Private engineering colleges where the fees could be as high as $10,000 for 4 years (note: a dollar buys in India many more times what a dollar buys in the United States). The quality of student is not as good as those in the RECs; moreover, admission is based on ability to pay rather then just academic performance. The quality of student in the first-tier colleges is still good, however.

  • State engineering colleges offering 4-year courses. Here there are problems of quality even for those who graduate in computer science.

  • Private training institutes such as NIIT (National Institute of Information Technology) and Aptech. These for-profit institutes offer 6-month courses (and longer) in IT. The quality of the graduates is very diverse. In the main, Indian IT companies do not generally hire graduates from these institutes or from the second- and third-tier state and private engineering colleges.

The number of places at the IITs and the RECs is set by the national government. The numbers have not been very responsive to the marketplace —the number of computer science slots has not been expanding much in recent years.

Since the late 1980s, India has graduated annually about 155,000 English-speaking engineering and science graduates; in addition, 200,000 diplomas are awarded each year.1 About 60,000 of this total pool are degree and diploma holders in IT, of which 16,000 come from premier institutions.2

1  

Estimates from Arora, A., V.S. Arunchalam, J. Asundi, and R. Fernandes, Carnegie Mellon University, “The Indian Software Industry,” unpublished paper.

2  

Roy, Atanu. 1998. “Which Course '98: Tingle in the Training Mall,” Computers Today, May 1.

Suggested Citation:"Longer-Term Strategies for Increasing the Supply of Qualified Labor: Training and Education." National Research Council. 2001. Building a Workforce for the Information Economy. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9830.
×

It is not clear whether the abundance of IT workers in India can be attributed to government policy. Indeed, Arora et al. believe it is somewhat serendipitous. They write, “The Indian success story has, for the most part, been a combination of resource endowments (created in part by a policy of substantial investment in higher education), a mixture of benign neglect and active encouragement from a normally intrusive government, and good timing.”3 The lack of opportunity for science and engineering graduates outside the IT sector and IT-intensive industries has encouraged a migration of non-IT graduates toward the growing Indian IT industry and the IT opportunities in the United States. There has also been considerable private sector investment in education through private engineering colleges, private training, institutes and Authorized Training Centers (see below).

Recent Developments

There have been several recent developments whose impact on IT education in India is probably too early to assess:

  • The Indian government has carried out a major study on the Indian IT industry (<http://it-taskforce.inc.in>) and has made recommendations in a wide range of areas including education.

  • The government has established Indian Institutes of Information Technology, similar to the IITs.

  • Some engineering colleges (e.g., in Bangalore; The Hindu, April 28, 2000) have increased their emphasis on information technology.

  • A number of major IT companies (e.g., IBM, Microsoft, Oracle) have set up Authorized Training Centers. Some of these are located close to the new Indian Institutes of Information Technology.

3  

Arora et al., Carnegie Mellon University, “The Indian Software Industry,” unpublished paper.

SOURCES: Arora, A., V.S. Arunchalam, J. Asundi, and R. Fernandes,Carnegie Mellon University, “The Indian Software Industry,” unpublished paper. Salzman, Hal, withRadha Roy Biswas, University of Massachusetts-Lowell, “The IndianIT Industry and Workforce,” commissioned paper prepared for the Committeeon Workforce Needs in Information Technology, March 2000.

Suggested Citation:"Longer-Term Strategies for Increasing the Supply of Qualified Labor: Training and Education." National Research Council. 2001. Building a Workforce for the Information Economy. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9830.
×

and engineering, 30.1 percent in 1991, and 33 percent in 1993 and thereafter (through 1996). The comparable figures in all science and engineering categories (including social sciences) are 19.3 percent, 23.4 percent, and 24.7 percent. 45 Data from the 1998 Taulbee survey (covering a more restricted but also more elite group of educational institutions) indicate that 40 percent of CS and CE Ph.D.s and 49 percent of CS and CE master 's degree recipients were awarded to nonresident aliens.46 If these individuals return to their home nations, their expertise becomes unavailable to the U.S. workforce; if they do not, they count against various quotas for nonresident workers.

The large proportion of foreign students at the postbaccalaureate level has sometimes raised concerns that foreign graduate students are keeping qualified U.S. students out of graduate programs. Systematic data related to this issue are unavailable, but anecdotal evidence suggests that the relatively low fraction of U.S. students in graduate programs is due largely to their lack of willingness to go to graduate school immediately after graduation instead of accepting a position in industry.47

45  

By contrast, the fraction of bachelor's degrees awarded to foreign students has been about 7 percent of all the bachelor's degrees awarded in math, computer science, and engineering, compared to about 3.7 percent of all bachelor's degrees awarded in all science and engineering categories (including social sciences). At the doctoral level, foreign students have accounted for between 45 percent and 51 percent of all doctoral degrees in math, computer science, and engineering. The corresponding range for all science and engineering categories (including social sciences) is 25.7 percent to 34.9 percent, but in neither case is there a clear trend in the data (which for doctoral degree recipients ends in 1997). See National Science Board. 2000. Science and Engineering Indicators—2000. Arlington, Va.: National Science Foundation, Appendix Tables 4-35 (bachelor's), 4-38 (master's), and 4-39 (Ph.D.).

46  

These figures may understate the fraction in the nonresident alien category. Freeman and Aspray, commenting on the 1994 Taulbee survey, point out that this category is supposed to include only domestic students with these backgrounds, but that in 1994 the numbers (around 17 percent) looked “unusually large to the computer scientists responsible for managing the survey” and that some of these students may be Asian-Pacific Island foreign nationals on visas. See Freeman, Peter, and William Aspray. 1999. The Supply of Information Technology Workers in the United States. Washington, D.C.: Computing Research Association. Available online at <www.cra.org./reports/wits/>, p. 91, n. 70.

47  

For example, a spot check at MIT indicated that foreign applications for computer science graduate programs in 1999 accounted for 46 percent of all applications to these programs but only 30 percent of the admissions. At the University of Washington, foreign applications for computer science accounted for 71 percent of applications, but only 37 percent of admissions. While the exact figures at MIT and the University of Washington might not be characteristic of other institutions, the relationship of applications to admissions is likely to be similar at other comparable schools. Assuming that foreign students and U.S. students are of comparable average quality, the pattern provides some evidence that foreign students are not displacing U.S. students from graduate programs.

Suggested Citation:"Longer-Term Strategies for Increasing the Supply of Qualified Labor: Training and Education." National Research Council. 2001. Building a Workforce for the Information Economy. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9830.
×

Indeed, there are nontrivial disincentives, at least in the short term, for U.S. students pursuing postbaccalaureate study in IT. Support for postsecondary education is much more available at the bachelor 's level (e.g., Pell grants, school-sponsored loans) and at the doctoral level (e.g., fellowships, graduate assistantships) than at the master 's level, for which little support is available. Families may budget for 4 years of undergraduate work, but as a rule, they do not do so for the extra year or so that it takes to obtain a master's degree. Thus, master's level graduate work may not be within the immediate financial means of many students. Furthermore, individuals wishing for their work to have an immediate impact have a much better opportunity to realize these wishes by working in the private sector (where ideas can be turned into products and services and applications rapidly) rather than by attending graduate school.

A comparison of cumulative earnings also sheds some light on these disincentives, at least from a financial point of view. Data from the National Association of Colleges and Employers indicate that in 1999, the average starting salary offer for individuals with bachelor 's, master's, and doctoral degrees in computer science was $44,469, $51,438, and $58,688, respectively. Assuming that tuition and fees for a 1-year master's program total $20,000 and that annual salary growth for both bachelor's and master's degree holders is 5 percent, the total earnings for holders of these degrees equalizes in about 10 years. Assuming a fully supported 5-year doctoral degree (effectively tuition and fees totaling zero), the total earnings equalize in about 50 years.

This model suggests that under some plausible assumptions, the financial benefits to advanced study are realized only in the long run if at all. However, it is important to emphasize that this rough calculation is based on many assumptions that may not be true in practice (e.g., identical wage growth profiles for all degree holders, no discount being applied to earnings that appear farther in the future, compensation identical to base salary).

7.1.4 Higher Education—Community Colleges

The 1,700+ community colleges of the United States are important in American higher education and play a key role in preparing many students for the workplace.48 About 40 percent (5.6 million) of all individuals enrolled in higher education in the fall of 1997 (a total of 14.5 million)

48  

U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics. 2000. Digest of Education Statistics, 1999, NCES 2000-031, Thomas D. Snyder and Charlene M. Hoffman. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office. Note that the terms “2-year” and “community college ” are used interchangeably in this report.

Suggested Citation:"Longer-Term Strategies for Increasing the Supply of Qualified Labor: Training and Education." National Research Council. 2001. Building a Workforce for the Information Economy. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9830.
×

were attending degree-granting 2-year colleges. Because students attend community colleges for a variety of reasons, the majority of 2-year students (about 75 percent) never complete an associate's degree. 49 About 30 percent transfer to 4-year institutions, some fail and/or drop out, and still others take only a few job-related classes.

Community colleges play a large role in educating adults, as well as full-time younger students. For example, during the 1995-1996 school year, 71 percent of 4-year students were under 25, only 17 percent were 25 to 34, and just 12 percent were over 35 years old. In contrast, slightly less than half of students enrolled in 2-year (and less than 2-year) colleges were under 25, 27 percent were 25 to 34, and about one-quarter were over 35.50 Reflecting the need of older students to work, the majority of community college students (63 percent in the fall of 1997) enroll part-time.

Community colleges play a large and growing role in preparing their students for Category 2 IT work, and for some types of Category 1 work as well.51 In addition to enrolling growing numbers of younger, full-time students in computer science and related fields, community colleges are training working adults for IT careers. For example, in a recent survey, more than 100,000 2-year college students enrolled in both credit and noncredit classes were asked about their background and their goals. 52 About 18 percent of all respondents enrolled in for-credit courses (leading to an associate's degree) said that gaining computer or technological skills was a major reason for enrolling. Compared to the average age of all 2-year students, the survey respondents who were seeking IT skills were quite a bit older: 24 percent were 26 to 39 years old, 32 percent were 40 to 59, and 35 percent of students were 60 or older. The survey results also suggest that community colleges are playing a growing role in retooling college graduates for IT careers: Twenty-eight percent of students in noncredit courses had already earned bachelor's, master's, or doctoral degrees. (Many IT certification programs are offered on a noncredit basis, as discussed further below.)

49  

Halperin, Sam, ed. 1998. The Forgotten Half Revisited: American Youth and Young Families, 1988-2008. Washington, D.C.: American Youth Policy Forum.

50  

Halperin, 1998, The Forgotten Half Revisited.

51  

For example, CPS data indicate that, in 1996, 10 percent of computer programmers had a 2-year degree. United Engineering Foundation, “IT Workforce Data Project,” available online at <http://www.uefoundation.org/itworkfp.html>.

52  

Lords, Erik. 2000. “Many Students Are Returning to 2-Year Colleges for Technical Training, a Survey Finds,” Chronicle of Higher Education, April 5.

Suggested Citation:"Longer-Term Strategies for Increasing the Supply of Qualified Labor: Training and Education." National Research Council. 2001. Building a Workforce for the Information Economy. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9830.
×
Content

Between roughly 1970 and 1990, community colleges increasingly focused their computer science majors on computer programming and applications. Adelman53 compared courses taken by two different cohorts of high school graduates who went on to earn associate's degrees in computer science. Those who studied at community colleges earlier (graduating from high school in 1972 and in 1984) took a broader course of study in community colleges than those who graduated from high school a decade later. The more recent cohort of students spent more of their time on computer science, mathematics, and business subjects, with especially large increases in time spent on computer programming and applications. These courses were well-matched to the graduates' activities in the jobs they found after graduating.

However, this emphasis on business knowledge and applications did not follow the Association for Computing Machinery's 1993 guidelines, which called for spending more time on algorithms, data structures, software methods, and engineering/architecture. Adelman noted that, if community college students took more such courses, the graduates “would have greater flexibility in adapting to new programming languages and computer environments.”54 More recently and contemporaneously with the rise in importance of the Internet, community college curricula are placing more emphasis on network installation and support and Web development.

The Northwest Center for Emerging Technologies (NWCET) at Bellevue Community College in Washington State has developed comprehensive skill standards designed in part to ensure that current 2-year IT education matches the requirements of the labor market. The NWCET IT skill standards are based on clusters of IT occupations, using a general definition of IT work similar to that used in this report (Box 7.5).55 The skill standards can be used to build curriculum modules, allowing community colleges to quickly expand their course offerings in IT disciplines. In addition, the modules allow state education agencies to align and articulate IT curricula from the high school level to community college, 4-year college, and university-level education (Box 7.6).

In recent years, the boundaries between 2-year and 4-year institutions, and between public and private training providers, have blurred

53  

Adelman, 1997, Leading, Concurrent, or Lagging? The Knowledge Content of Computer Science in Higher Education and the Labor Market.

54  

Adelman, 1997, Leading, Concurrent, or Lagging? The Knowledge Content of Computer Science in Higher Education and the Labor Market, p. 21.

55  

Northwest Center for Emerging Technologies, 1999, Building a Foundation for Tomorrow: Skill Standards for Information Technology.

Suggested Citation:"Longer-Term Strategies for Increasing the Supply of Qualified Labor: Training and Education." National Research Council. 2001. Building a Workforce for the Information Economy. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9830.
×

BOX 7.5 IT Skills Standards from the Northwest Center for Emerging Technologies

The Northwest Center for Emerging Technologies (NWCET) at Bellevue Community College in Washington State led a recent effort to identify the broad skills, ability, and knowledge required for work in a broad range of IT occupations. With funding from the National Science Foundation and the State of Washington, NWCET developed initial skill standards in 1997. Information on the skills and abilities required in nine different “career clusters” (groups of occupations) was obtained through interviews, focus groups, and surveys of both workers and employers. Over the next 2 years, NWCET worked with national trade associations, educators, publishers, and others to validate and refine the initial skill standards. Panels of IT workers and managers in northern Virginia, in Springfield, Massachusetts, and in Silicon Valley provided feedback on the draft standards and identified new and changing skill requirements. Their input led to new draft standards, which were reviewed and validated through a survey of over 2,000 employers of IT workers. Finally, in 1999, NWCET released updated skill standards for eight career clusters.1

Following a job analysis system developed by the National Skill Standards Board, NWCET staff identified the broad job functions, or “critical work functions,” required in many different jobs within each career cluster. To define skills more specifically, each critical work function was broken down further into “key activities.” Based on managers' and workers' definitions of successful performance in each key activity, NWCET identified “performance indicators” for each. Next, job analysts identified the technical knowledge and the broader “employability skills” required for successful performance of the key activities and critical work functions. Examples are shown in Table 2.7 in Chapter 2, pp. 88 and 89..

1  

Northwest Center for Emerging Technologies (NWCET). 1999. Building a Foundation for Tomorrow: Skill Standards for Information Technology. Bellevue, Wash.: NWCET.

(see Section 7.1.5 below). For example, Carnegie Technology Education (CTE; a nonprofit subsidiary of Carnegie Mellon University) is a new educational institution that provides course content on the Internet, and partners with community colleges to deliver instruction. CTE's Software Systems Development curriculum seeks to incorporate not only the detailed skills and knowledge needed to work with today's technology, but also the fundamental underlying concepts.56 All courses involve extensive hands-on assignments, a combination of principle and practice derived from the parent Carnegie Mellon School of Computer Science. To date, CTE's partner institutions include the Art Institute of Pittsburgh and the Community College of Allegheny County.

56  

For more information, see CTE's Web site at <http://www.carnegietech.org>.

Suggested Citation:"Longer-Term Strategies for Increasing the Supply of Qualified Labor: Training and Education." National Research Council. 2001. Building a Workforce for the Information Economy. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9830.
×

BOX 7.6 Uses of NWCET IT Skill Standards in Secondary Schools and Community Colleges

Washington State policymakers supported the NWCET IT skill standards effort because they recognized that developing and delivering curriculum based on the modularized skill standards could significantly reduce the time required to get emerging technology trends into the classroom. This potential may be realized in several locations around the nation. For example, Maryland has developed a comprehensive technology education plan based in part on the NWCET skill standards and associated curriculum. The Maryland plan calls for a broad, integrated approach to IT education, with components in secondary school, community college, and university education, as well as internships. Wisconsin has developed a model youth apprenticeship program in IT, based on the NWCET modular curriculum. Because it includes broad, transferable skills and knowledge identified in the skill standards, this youth apprenticeship program provides the knowledge young people need if they decide to pursue further study in the state technical colleges.

The Oregon Software Association has worked with the state department of education to develop skill standards-based IT curricula for certificates of initial and advanced mastery for IT, using the NWCET curriculum, efficiently articulating programs from the high school to community college level. In addition, large secondary school and community college districts in California, Texas, Massachusetts, and Florida, with state support, have developed comprehensive systems of IT education based on the NWCET skill standards. These educational models include curricula and assessments designed to provide flexible, quality IT education at the high school and college level.

Supply

During the mid-1990s, about 10,000 associate's degrees in computing or information science were awarded each year, accounting for about 2 percent of all associate's degrees awarded nationally. Currently, the Computing Research Association estimates that about one-third of all U.S. community colleges award IT associate 's degrees. This suggests that if demand for IT workers continues to grow rapidly, 2-year institutions might be able to increase the supply of formally educated workers in two ways. First, existing institutions might expand their IT course offerings, increasing enrollments and associate's degrees awarded. Second, more 2-year institutions might develop programs of study leading to associate's degrees in IT fields. In addition, as discussed in Section 7.1.5 below, community colleges could continue their rapid expansion of short-term courses leading to IT certification.

Suggested Citation:"Longer-Term Strategies for Increasing the Supply of Qualified Labor: Training and Education." National Research Council. 2001. Building a Workforce for the Information Economy. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9830.
×

During the 1990s, the number of 2-year colleges awarding associate 's degrees in computer science or information systems grew by about 15 percent.57 Although more recent data are not available, it appears that, in response to both market forces and public policies, 2-year institutions are now in the process of quickly expanding their information technology programs. Many states have worked with their state software associations, technology committees, chambers of commerce, consortia of community colleges, and industry to initiate or augment IT programs. In addition, large IT vendors have partnered with 2-year colleges to develop industry certification programs for Category 2 workers, as discussed in Section 7.1.5 below.

One major constraint to the growth of IT programs in community colleges is a lack of qualified faculty. Community colleges cannot compete on the open market against industry for IT professionals to teach. Top starting salaries for community college instructors are often equal to what community college graduates are offered as starting salaries in private industry. Tenured community college faculty earn higher salaries, but might be able to earn twice as much for the same skills if they went to private firms. Furthermore, community college faculty are often unionized, with labor contracts specifying salary progressions, faculty rank, and tenure requirements. These contracts reduce the ability of community colleges to reduce, reassign, or add faculty in response to changing labor market demands.

Because 2-year colleges focus more on preparing people for employment than do 4-year institutions, they are generally more responsive to changing labor market demands. Nevertheless, community college administrators, like their counterparts in 4-year colleges and universities, tend to oppose very rapid increases in any one discipline. A typical community college may offer courses or programs in health occupations, skilled trades, arts and humanities, business, and science as well as technology. The technology program might include electronics, drafting, surveying, TV production, and media as well as information technology. With the exception of locally collected tuition and fees, community college funding is limited by funding formulas reflecting FTEs of students enrolled in a wide variety of programs.58 Using more of this formula-

57  

Computing Research Association. 1999. “The Supply of Information Technology Workers in the United States. ” Available online at <http://www.cra.org/reports/wits/chapter-5.html>.

58  

In general, a combination of state appropriations and local or regional assessments, together with the tuition and fees collected from students, provides the funding for most 2-year colleges. State and regional funding is typically based on the FTE (full-time-equivalent) student. One student attending four or five classes per quarter (with each class meeting about 3 hours per week for 10 weeks) is roughly equivalent to one FTE. This formula allows for variability in actual student schedules. One person taking three classes per quarter and another person taking two classes per quarter would still generate one FTE. Because so many community college students only attend classes part time, the FTE is a more predictable and accurate measure of instructional effort than is a head count. The FTE is used to make staffing decisions and to calculate faculty workload.

Suggested Citation:"Longer-Term Strategies for Increasing the Supply of Qualified Labor: Training and Education." National Research Council. 2001. Building a Workforce for the Information Economy. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9830.
×

based funding to increase course offerings in any one area, including IT, means cutting capacity in other areas. And, as in the case of 4-year institutions, community colleges are reluctant to add tenured faculty in any one field, including IT fields, because such positions are difficult to eliminate if demand falls.

A second problem is a lack of up-to-date computing and network infrastructure in certain community college environments, especially in rural areas. Without high-speed connectivity and up-to-date equipment, both the content and supply of IT education will lag in these areas. These deficits affect development of both basic computer literacy and the more advanced occupational skills provided by community colleges.

7.1.5 Industry Certification

Education aimed at certification is a large and rapidly growing source of skills for IT workers, particularly those who perform mostly Category 2 work. By January 2000, an estimated 2.4 million certificates had been awarded worldwide to about 1.6 million individuals.59 In general, certification is based on successful completion of a number of examinations (as many as eight or nine for any given certificate); in some cases, a certificate requires certain levels of experience as well.

Certifying organizations specify the content of these exams and award the actual certificates. Large U.S. IT vendors, including Microsoft, Oracle, Novell, and Cisco, award the most widely recognized certificates and also provide training to those seeking certification.60 U.S.-based associations, including the Computer Technology Industry Association (CompTIA), the Institute for Certification of Computing Professionals, and the International Webmasters' Association, offer “vendor-neutral” certificates that are less well known.

Almost all certifying organizations offer a series of certificates reflecting attainment of progressively more advanced skills and abilities.

59  

Adelman, Clifford. 2000. “A Parallel Universe Expanded: Certification in the Information Technology Guild.” Available online at <http://www.aahe.org/change/paralleluniverse.htm>.

60  

Approximately 50 private vendors and nonprofits offer some type of certificate. These include non-U.S, firms such as Baan and SAP (Christianson, J.S., and A. Fajen. 1999. Computer and Network Professional's Certification Guide. San Francisco: Network Press).

Suggested Citation:"Longer-Term Strategies for Increasing the Supply of Qualified Labor: Training and Education." National Research Council. 2001. Building a Workforce for the Information Economy. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9830.
×

Reflecting this hierarchy, the examinations range in difficulty. Some are simple 45-minute multiple-choice tests, but individuals seeking the high-level Cisco Certified Internetwork Expert (CCIE) certificate must do well in an extended simulation (2 days) dealing with network problems, as well as completing a 2-hour written test.

Many individuals prepare for certification exams by reading technical manuals and exam-preparation books on their own. Others take advantage of training offered by a rapidly growing number of public and private providers. Private providers create their own courses, and/or reconfigure existing curricula for online or CD-based instruction. Public educational institutions at all levels, including high school, community colleges, and universities, often partner with vendors to offer training for certification. As an illustration, industry certification training for Novell, Microsoft, and Cisco products is available in Austin from private vendors, at Austin Community College, and at the University of Texas.

A common mode of cooperation between the vendor and the educational institution is an exchange of hardware and software in return for customized training: A vendor provides the educational institution (e.g., a community college) with computing hardware and software, as well as its good name (which helps to attract students). In return, the educational institution agrees to provide customized training, using the company's equipment and following the company's curriculum. For example, Cisco Networking Academy is a four-semester program leading toward the Cisco Certified Network Associate credential. Public and private educational institutions at 3,200 sites worldwide offer this program.61

The most widely awarded certificates are those recognizing systems administration and other computer support skills. A recent survey 62 indicates that the two most common certificates today are the Microsoft Certified Professional, awarded to nearly 460,000 people by February 2000, and the Certified Novell Administrator, with 370,000 certificate holders in late 1999. There are also certificates recognizing higher-level skills in programming, database management, and technical training. For example, Microsoft had awarded about 24,000 Microsoft Certified Solution Developer (MCSD) certificates by February 2000, and by May 1999, an estimated 50,000 individuals had been certified by the Institute for Certification of Computing Professionals (ICCP).

The most commonly awarded certificates are based on a rather narrow set of “perishable” vendor-specific skills. Certifying organizations recognize this and retire out-of-date certification tests based on old technology.

61  

Adelman, 2000, “A Parallel Universe Expanded.”

62  

Adelman, 2000, “A Parallel Universe Expanded.”

Suggested Citation:"Longer-Term Strategies for Increasing the Supply of Qualified Labor: Training and Education." National Research Council. 2001. Building a Workforce for the Information Economy. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9830.
×

Some require certificate holders to successfully complete the new exam in their field if they wish to maintain their certification.

Despite their narrow focus, most IT certificates reflect attainment of at least some generic skills as well. Recognizing this, many training providers and certifying organizations grant “credit” toward attainment of one certificate, based on attainment of another organization' s certificate. Vendors have recently begun to work together to develop more generic certificates. For example, IBM, Novell, Oracle, Sun Microsystems, and Netscape have cooperatively developed a new program of Java training and certification.

Reflecting the narrow focus of most IT certificates, most schools and colleges that offer training leading to certification offer such training on a noncredit basis. However, Pima Community College District in California has developed an extensive system of challenge examinations to independently measure attainment of skills developed in certification preparation courses. Students enrolled in IT certificate preparation courses at 170 locations who successfully complete these exams can turn their knowledge into college credit. And Regents College in New York has created a B.S. in computer information science, based on credits attained by completion of certification exams.63

Vendors benefit from certification programs because their products often require skilled support personnel to operate those products effectively. Employers hiring certified individuals have some assurance of minimal competency, at least in “book” learning. But as a rule, they want experience as well. For example, David Hunn of the Northern Virginia Regional Partnership reports that individuals with the Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer certificate but not job experience have great difficulty finding employment in IT jobs. Like other types of educational credentials, IT skill certificates can help an individual 's career but cannot substitute for actual workplace experience.

7.1.6 Distance Learning

An issue common to almost all institutions of postsecondary education —community colleges, undergraduate colleges, master's-granting institutions, and for-profit institutions—involves the use of information technology to

63  

This program is only open to those with either an associate's degree or at least 60 college credits.

Suggested Citation:"Longer-Term Strategies for Increasing the Supply of Qualified Labor: Training and Education." National Research Council. 2001. Building a Workforce for the Information Economy. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9830.
×

deliver education (and training) at a distance. Many such institutions believe that through the use of information technology to deliver content, they will be able to expand their student body beyond the community of those who are geographically proximate to their campuses.

Whether the promise of such education is realized remains to be seen. While it is clear that information technology can help to replicate the number of sites at which content can be delivered to students, personal interactions between teacher and student, and among students —for coaching, answering specific questions, and so on—are an important element of most educational experiences. Many providers of distance education appear to recognize this fact and have developed mechanisms to promote such interactions (e.g., tutors local to the point of delivery), but it is not yet clear that these mechanisms are sufficient to provide the necessary personalized dimensions of education.64

7.2 TRAINING IT WORKERS

For purposes of the discussion below, training refers to activity for the purpose of improving an IT worker's job performance. For new hires, training often includes orientation to the culture of the company. In other cases, training is oriented toward the acquisition of new skills, whether technical or nontechnical. Unless otherwise specified, the term “training” includes “formal” training as well as more “informal” training, such as learning by doing.

It is generally accepted that all users of computer systems, and especially IT workers, must continually learn and update their skills to keep pace with rapidly changing technology. The discussion below addresses various dimension of training.

7.2.1 The Need for Lifelong Learning

As discussed in the previous section, successfully performing many kinds of IT work, including both Category 1 work and Category 2 work, requires formal education. In addition, however, following their initial education, IT workers require ongoing training. Knowledgeable observers suggest that, to maintain technology skills in a rapidly changing technological environment, IT workers must spend 1.5 to 2 hours per day (or 7.5 to 10 hours per week) in continuing education and/or training. For example, a representative of a large IT professional association told the committee that IT workers spend 9 to 10 hours per week reading on their own time

64  

U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics. 1999. Distance Learning at Postsecondary Education Institutions: 1997-98, Lewis, Laurie, Kyle Snow, Elizabeth Farris, Douglas Levin, and Bernie Greene. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, December.

Suggested Citation:"Longer-Term Strategies for Increasing the Supply of Qualified Labor: Training and Education." National Research Council. 2001. Building a Workforce for the Information Economy. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9830.
×

“to keep up technically and professionally.”65 An IT job placement specialist66 recommends that IT workers who want to remain employable spend “a couple of hours a day” reading, attending conferences, and learning informally from other IT professionals. A representative of another job placement and training company who recommends that IT workers continually “relearn everything you've learned” follows his own advice by spending his 1.5-hour daily commute studying technical manuals.67

Although it may be unrealistic to expect that an employed IT worker would be willing and able to spend 20 percent of his or her time in educational activities, these estimates do provide an indication of the magnitude of the training required.

On the other hand, workers have high incentives to seek training in an environment of rapid technological change, because keeping “current” is likely—provisionally—to increase one's marketability (but see discussion at Section 7.3). Recognizing the need for ongoing training, some workers do train on their own time and at their own expense. In order to help workers to keep their skills current, a growing number of providers—including consultants, state and local governments, vendors, technical institutions, and community colleges—offer formal IT training outside of normal working hours. In addition, many IT workers join professional associations to help keep their skills current. These associations provide technical publications, conferences, and opportunities to network with other professionals.

7.2.2 Disincentives for Employer-provided Formal Training

In a rapidly changing technological environment, employers have strong incentives to have workers with skills that are well-matched to that environment. An employer can obtain such workers in one of two ways —by hiring individuals who already have the necessary skills, or by training individuals who do not already have those skills.

According to human capital theory, firms are unwilling to finance the training of workers in “general” education or skills, because the workers might leave after obtaining the new skills. However, firms are willing to

65  

John Keaton, Manager, Research and Planning, IEEE Computer Society (made up of 104,000 IT professionals, the society is a division of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineering) testimony to the Committee on IT Workforce Needs, February 29, 2000.

66  

Steve Gallison, Professional Outplacement Assistance Center, testimony to the Committee on IT Workforce Needs, February 29, 2000.

67  

Jim Holder, Program Manager, Alternative Resources Corp. (a staffing company that retrains older, disabled veterans, and welfare recipients for IT jobs), cited in Vaas, Lisa. 1999. “Recycling Wisdom,” PC Week Online, November 1.

Suggested Citation:"Longer-Term Strategies for Increasing the Supply of Qualified Labor: Training and Education." National Research Council. 2001. Building a Workforce for the Information Economy. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9830.
×

make some investment in training workers in company-specific skills. 68 More recently, economists have questioned these predictions of human capital theory. One reason is that they follow from the assumption that labor markets operate in perfect competition, with each worker 's salary reflecting his or her true productivity. However, perfect competition does not describe all labor markets.69 For example, in some situations, such as those in temporary help firms,70 an employer who trains a worker may know much more about that worker 's increased skills and productivity than any potential new employer might know. As a result, the current employer can keep the employee without raising his or her salary to levels reflecting the actual increase in productivity. In such cases, employer investments in training are beneficial for the firm as well as for the worker, and thus, under some conditions, firms do finance the costs of general training.71

Further, even in perfectly competitive labor markets firms may find it profitable to invest in general training if it can help to reduce turnover. For example, one study found that scientists and engineers whose firms paid for their graduate education were less likely to quit than other scientists and engineers who paid for their own education. 72 The authors of this analysis suggested that company investments in broad transferable training can provide “insurance” against the loss of investments in firm-specific training by reducing turnover.

That said, high turnover (as in IT today), reduces employers' incentive to train, even in labor markets that are not perfectly competitive. Conversely, a lack of on-the-job training opportunities may encourage the turnover that, in turn, discourages employer-provided training. In theory, employers could reduce the risk of losing their training investments by requiring employees to sign contracts specifying that they will stay with the firm for a certain length of time or else repay the training expense. However, such contracts appear to be rare, in part because younger workers, who do not expect to have long-term careers with a single firm,

68  

Becker, Gary. 1975. Human Capital: A Theoretical and Empirical Analysis with Special Reference to Education. New York: National Bureau of Economic Research.

69  

Acemoglu, Daron, and Joern-Steffen Pischke. 1999. “The Structure of Wages and Investment in General Training,” Journal of Political Economy 107(3):539-572.

70  

Autor, David. 2000. “Why Do Temporary Help Firms Provide Free General Skills Training? ” Revised April 2000. Massachusetts Institute of Technology and National Bureau of Economic Research.

71  

Autor, 2000, “Why Do Temporary Help Firms Provide Free General Skills Training? ”

72  

Feuer, Michael J., Henry Glick, and Anand Desai. 1991. “Firm Financed Education and Specific Human Capital: A Test of the Insurance Hypothesis,” pp. 41-60 in Market Failure in Training? New Economic Analysis and Evidence on Training in Employed Adults, D. Stern and J.M.M. Ritzen, eds. Berlin: Springer-Verlag.

Suggested Citation:"Longer-Term Strategies for Increasing the Supply of Qualified Labor: Training and Education." National Research Council. 2001. Building a Workforce for the Information Economy. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9830.
×

are reluctant to sign them.73 In addition, “pay or stay” training contracts appear to be legally unenforceable, at least in Silicon Valley. Columbia University law professor Alan Hyde suggests that the economic success of Silicon Valley's computer industry rests on “high velocity” labor markets, which encourage workers to produce and diffuse information, with no legal constraints on employee mobility.74 Examining contracts designed to protect trade secrets that are very similar to “pay or stay” training contracts, Hyde found that judges and juries were unlikely to uphold such contracts and that firms that tried to enforce them suffered from lower morale and difficulty in recruiting new employees.

Intense competitive pressure may either encourage or discourage employers from providing opportunities for training on the job, as well as from providing formal training. On the one hand, providing training may help employers to attract sought-after employees in this tight labor market as part of the overall compensation package. On the other hand, in the race to bring products to market, employers have a strong incentive to keep workers where they are most productive. A worker who is highly adept and productive using “old” technology may be kept on jobs using just that technology.

Finally, the rapid technological change that characterizes the IT field provides a disincentive for employers to provide training. In particular, training that relates to one technology or applications domain may—or may not—have direct relevance to a new generation of technology or a different domain. And if the value of such training is quickly outdated, then employers will have less of an incentive to provide it in the first place.

7.2.3 Other Factors Affecting Training

Other factors are important influences on the ability of workers to keep their skills current.

The first is that many workers are unable to spend sufficient amounts of off-hours time to keep their skills current. These include individuals with family commitments (whether to spouse, children, or aging parents), those unable to afford continuing education, and those working signifi-

73  

At site visits to systems integration firms in northern Virginia, the committee learned of this problem.

74  

Hyde, Alan, “The Wealth of Shared Information: Silicon Valley's High-Velocity Labor Market, Endogenous Economic Growth, and the Law of Trade Secrets,” paper presented at conference, Corporate Governance Today, Columbia University, May 21-22, 1998, and revised September 1998. Available online at <http://andromeda.rutger/edu/`hyde/WEALTH.htm>.

Suggested Citation:"Longer-Term Strategies for Increasing the Supply of Qualified Labor: Training and Education." National Research Council. 2001. Building a Workforce for the Information Economy. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9830.
×

cant amounts of overtime. While estimates of 20 percent as the fraction of one's working hours that should be spent in continuing education may be unrealistic in practice, even a more realistic estimate of 10 percent corresponds to a substantial reduction in the individual 's leisure and/or work time. For these individuals in such a situation, employer-provided training during regular work hours may be the only way to regularly enhance their skills.

The second is the role of formal education in computer science. As noted in Section 7.1.2, computer science education has undergone considerable evolution in the last 25 years. While many of today's Category 1 IT workers did not have the benefit of modern computer science education (and indeed, may have initially acquired their skills through other channels such as employer-provided training, learning by doing, or study in other disciplines75), such career paths may well be more difficult in the future. To the extent that an IT worker lacks a modern formal computer science education, it may be more difficult for such an individual to learn to use emerging technologies than for someone with such an educational background.

The committee emphasizes that neither of these factors suggest that it is impossible for workers to keep their skills up to date, though they may help to explain why it is difficult for some workers to do so.

Finally, the previous work experience of a worker has an indeterminate effect on the ease of training him or her to learn to use new technologies. On the one hand, the difficulties of learning to use new technologies —which may require new ways of thinking about problems—may be worse for highly experienced individuals because of the need to “unlearn” previous approaches necessary to use more familiar technologies. (Box 7.7 provides more detail on this point.) On the other hand, a more experienced IT worker may bring to the training task more seasoning and maturity of judgment, qualities that can help someone more rapidly identify essential attributes of a new technology and be a more effective learner.

7.2.4 Support and Infrastructure for Training

Companies require infrastructure for the support of training if training is to become part of their corporate responsibility. Purchasing training generally requires less infrastructure than developing it internally. For example, only a small infrastructure is needed to provide tuition reimbursement to employees who attend classes. However, some IT firms

75  

Barley, Stephen R., and Julian E. Orr. 1997. Between Craft and Science: Technical Work in U.S. Settings. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press.

Suggested Citation:"Longer-Term Strategies for Increasing the Supply of Qualified Labor: Training and Education." National Research Council. 2001. Building a Workforce for the Information Economy. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9830.
×

BOX 7.7 Incremental versus Paradigmatic Change

Software technology has undergone some drastic changes in the last couple of decades. Although some computer programming languages are quite similar in their underlying constructs (for example, compare C and Pascal), the newest generations of languages are quite different from the previous generations (compare Pascal and Java).

For example, “objects” in Java and C++ are an entirely new concept that is not contained in C or Pascal or Fortran. Even more importantly, a large amount of the power of Java and C++ is embedded in the use of objects (so much so that these languages are regarded as being “object-oriented ”). Thus, to use Java or C++ effectively, one must become familiar with an entirely new, object-oriented computing paradigm. Although a programmer trained in C can begin to do some things with C++ immediately (specifically, he or she can implement code that does not require objects), gaining a true command of the new language, with its object orientation, is much more difficult than learning new syntax.

The difference between procedural languages and object-oriented languages is only one example of an abrupt change in the paradigms of programming. Functional programming is another equally abrupt difference. It is true that one can implement any programming task in any language, but programming languages can differ dramatically in the extent to which they make it easy or difficult to express solutions in any given problem domain.

Outside the domain of programming languages, changes in software technology can become even more significant. For example, the difference between software development in a mainframe environment and a Web-based environment is essentially a matter of different operating systems, but these manifest themselves at every level, from detailed implementation to (most importantly) requirements specification. Furthermore, for many system development projects, an understanding of the computing infrastructure is essential (e.g., different forms of connectivity among applications)—and the infrastructure underlying mainframes and Web computing are fundamentally different.

Finally, it is important to understand that differences in work content can be as intellectually challenging for individual workers as a change in technological paradigm. Contrary to some popular beliefs, a worker's familiarity with and knowledge of an application domain have considerable influence on his or her ability to develop applications relevant to that domain. Thus, a person with experience developing business applications may well have difficulty in writing device drivers, even though he may well be a competent programmer. Problems involving real-time applications are often particularly difficult without the requisite experience. Graphics applications are difficult, even with considerable programming experience, because of all the new algorithms that have to be learned for coordinate transformations, projections, visibility calculations, lighting calculations, and texturing.

Suggested Citation:"Longer-Term Strategies for Increasing the Supply of Qualified Labor: Training and Education." National Research Council. 2001. Building a Workforce for the Information Economy. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9830.
×

must provide the training themselves because they are the only parties capable of providing certain highly specialized skills (e.g., when a firm's business is based on a proprietary technology) or an appropriate company-specific “acculturation” (this takes the form of “boot camps” in some IT-sector firms). Developing and providing training internally require much more staff time and expertise.

The most precious kind of support from employers is release time from the job to take training so that the worker does not have to take the time “out of hide.” Such support is rare compared to the support employers provide for tuition reimbursement and the like. For workers under the pressure of small and impending market windows or other tight project-delivery deadlines, time for training is at a high premium —and since training does not contribute immediately to product delivery, training is not practical during these periods.

All of these considerations suggest that a worker is likely to achieve an adequate level of continuous education only if the responsibilities are shared between worker and employer. Workers must be willing to spend some of their own time on training efforts, and employers must be willing to explicitly build some time for training into a worker 's schedule.

7.2.5 Training Opportunities in the Economy and in High Technology

Before moving to a discussion of current training practices among employers of IT workers, it is useful to look at the overall patterns of training in the U.S. economy. Surveys of both employees and employers conducted over the past 15 years indicate that the amount of employer-provided training is slowly increasing. The most recent detailed information on training comes from the National Employer Survey conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau in 1994 and 1997.76

Lynch and Black analyzed the survey data and reached several conclusions. 77

  • Most employers (81 percent) provide some form of formal training.

  • Employer-provided training is distributed unevenly across industries and occupations. Establishments in the nonmanufacturing sector

76  

The National Center on the Educational Quality of the Workforce at the University of Pennsylvania designed the survey and a nationally representative sampling approach. In 1994, the Census Bureau obtained responses from nearly 3,000 establishments (a 64 percent response rate). With new questions added, the survey was administered again in 1997, and responses were received from over 5,000 establishments (a 78 percent response rate).

77  

Lynch, Lisa M., and Sandra E. Black. 1998. “Beyond the Incidence of Employer-Provided Training,” Industrial and Labor Relations Review 52(10): 64-82.

Suggested Citation:"Longer-Term Strategies for Increasing the Supply of Qualified Labor: Training and Education." National Research Council. 2001. Building a Workforce for the Information Economy. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9830.
×

(where most IT workers are employed) are more likely to provide training than are manufacturing establishments.

  • Establishments are statistically less likely to provide some type of formal training if they have a low proportion of educated workers, a high proportion of minority employees, or a low percentage of female employees.

  • Establishments that had invested in improved technology and reorganized work for greater productivity were more likely than other establishments to also provide formal training.

In general, Lynch and Black concluded that employer-provided training complements, rather than substitutes for, investments in physical capital and education. Other studies indicate that when firms adopt several complementary human resource strategies (often including work teams, selective hiring, training, and innovative compensation schemes), they experience increased productivity and profitability, and quit rates decline.78

7.2.6 Training Realities
Extent of Training

Although many IT workers obtain education and training on their own initiative, many others rely primarily on their employers to keep their skills current. However, some evidence suggests that the average amount of training provided in high-technology industries, including IT industries, falls short of the estimated 1 to 2 hours per day required to keep an IT worker's skills current. Available estimates indicate that high-technology companies, including IT companies, 79 provide their workers with about 8 minutes of formal training per day (a level that is still higher than that provided to workers in non-high-tech companies).80 Adding

78  

See Becker, Brian E., and Mark A. Huselid. 1998. “High Performance Work Systems and Firm Performance: A Synthesis of Research and Managerial Implications,” Research in Personnel and Human Resource Management 16: 53-101.

79  

Both of the estimates included in this paragraph are based on a definition of IT that includes manufacturers of computer and communications equipment, as well as computer services.

80  

The small group of training-intensive IT firms that belong to the ASTD benchmarking forum report that, during 1998, they provided their employees with 29 hours of formal training annually, the equivalent of 7 to 8 minutes per day. This is quite similar to the Bureau of Labor Statistics estimate that high-technology employers provide about 34 hours of formal training per year, based on a large, nationally representative survey. (See American Society for Training and Development. 2000. State of the Industry Report 2000. Alexandria, Va.: ASTD.)

Suggested Citation:"Longer-Term Strategies for Increasing the Supply of Qualified Labor: Training and Education." National Research Council. 2001. Building a Workforce for the Information Economy. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9830.
×

informal training to these figures roughly doubles the amount of training, to about 15 minutes per day.81

Those IT firms that do invest in training try to target their training to specific skills. For example, one mid-sized Texas firm is investing heavily to retrain programmers skilled in C++ as Java programmers. Workers who wish to develop other types of skills, however, are expected to train on their own time, in addition to handling their existing duties. The company provides books, videos, and partial tuition reimbursement. Even while following these practices, managers at this firm are concerned about the lack of training in the industry. One manager said, “We are cannibalizing our future by emphasizing short-term productivity over long-term professional development.”82

As discussed in Chapter 2, the majority of IT workers are not employed in the IT sector. The estimates cited above indicate that workers employed outside of high-technology industries receive less formal training than do workers employed in high-technology industries. Thus, the training gaps discussed here may even be greater for the majority of workers employed outside the IT sector.

Training and Firm Size

National surveys of workers and managers conducted over the past decade have consistently shown that large organizations provide formal training more frequently than smaller ones.83 Small IT firms do not

81  

In response to a request from the American Electronics Association, Bureau of Labor Statistics staff compared data on training in IT with training in all other industries (Frazis, Harley, et al. 1998. “Results from the 1995 Survey of Employer-Provided Training,” Monthly Labor Review, June). Drawing on a large, nationally representative survey of firms and a smaller survey of workers, BLS estimated that IT firms provide employees with 64 hours of both formal and informal training per year, or about 15 minutes per day. (The data for the BLS survey were drawn from the BLS 1995 survey of a nationally representative sample of companies with 50 or more employees. About 1,000 employers completed detailed logs on formal training activities, and about 1,000 randomly selected employees in the same firms provided detailed logs of informal as well as formal training. The employees were asked to report any activity in which they were taught a skill or were provided with new information to help them do their job better. The resulting data are more detailed and accurate than previous estimates of informal training, but the small sample size and relatively short time period of the logs make the data on informal training less precise than the data on formal training.)

82  

Manager, software firm, Austin, Texas (site visit by Committee on Workforce Needs in Information Technology, December 1999).

83  

Lynch, Lisa M., and Sandra E. Black, 1998, “Beyond the Incidence of Employer-Provided Training”; Frazis, Harley, et al., 1998, “Results from the 1995 Survey of Employer-Provided Training,” Monthly Labor Review, June; Amirault, Thomas, and Alan Eck, 1992, How Workers Get Their Training: A 1991 Update, Bulletin 2407, Washington, D.C.: Bureau of Labor Statistics, August.

Suggested Citation:"Longer-Term Strategies for Increasing the Supply of Qualified Labor: Training and Education." National Research Council. 2001. Building a Workforce for the Information Economy. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9830.
×

appear to be an exception. For example, one small new application service provider (about 200 employees) relies entirely on recruiting “pretrained IT personnel.” A manager of this firm testified to the committee that it did not provide in-house training because of the rapid pace of change in technology and applications, the multitude of vendor products for which individuals had to have expertise, the short tenure of employees (less than 2 years), and a lack of funds to support training.

As a rule, smaller firms are less likely than larger firms to have the expertise needed either to develop courses internally or to make good decisions about the broad array of training available from outside vendors. For example, among the 70 percent of Massachusetts IT firms that have 25 or fewer employees, most do not have any full-time human resources staff.84 In addition, smaller firms may find it even more difficult than larger ones to release personnel from production to spend time being trained because they have fewer employees to take up the slack left by an employee who has left for training (or any other purpose).

In contrast, large employers often have formal human resources departments with the resources to provide training, and because they are large enough to achieve significant economies of scale, do provide extensive training. For example, the Intel Corporation provides extensive training to newly hired recent college graduates, as well as more experienced workers. The company spends about $350 million a year on employee training, with a particular focus on areas such as chip design, where outside training programs are not available to prepare people for Intel jobs.

Larger firms can also more easily provide on-the-job training opportunities by linking training to internal mobility within the firm. Some firms provide formal training on a “just-in-time” basis to employees coming off one project and starting another project where different skills are required. The opportunity to work with employees in different projects or across corporate divisions also enhances informal “situated learning.” These practices are more often found in larger, more stable firms, such as government contractors that are able to win longer-term contracts. With relatively long lead times, human resources and project managers are able to plan ahead to retrain and redeploy personnel within the company. Employees at one such company cited extensive training opportunities, the ability to move into different divisions and do different types of work, and the value of stock in the employee-owned firm as key reasons why

84  

Joyce Plotkin, Massachusetts Software Council, testimony to the committee, December 1999.

Suggested Citation:"Longer-Term Strategies for Increasing the Supply of Qualified Labor: Training and Education." National Research Council. 2001. Building a Workforce for the Information Economy. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9830.
×

they stay. This company has much lower annual turnover than is typical among IT firms more generally.

7.2.7 Historical Experiences in Training

Large-scale efforts to retool workers in companies that have reoriented their business strategies have succeeded in some cases and failed in others. For example, IBM was known for many years for its commitment to employment security. As its business began to shift away from a focus on mainframe computers to client-server systems, top management at first followed its historical approach of training current employees. However, training the mainframe-oriented workforce in the new systems proved difficult and sometimes impossible. According to one executive, “Retraining helped, but there were a lot of cases where retraining didn't help.”

More recently, over the past 2 years, IBM has transformed itself into an electronic business, with requirements for workers with Web knowledge and Internet/Intranet experience. Again, it sought to develop such workers from within the firm. Following the earlier changes, the company now has a strong base of workers with skills in client-server hardware and software. Once again, however, training and moving these workers from client-server-oriented jobs into Web-based jobs have proved difficult. The bottom line, according to a senior IBM executive, is that despite the IBM history of investing time and money in training, IBM is now “looking to bring people in to fill those assignments. ”85

Other companies, however, have succeeded in training IT workers to work with new technology. For example, Novell (a much smaller company than IBM) has retrained about 2,000 programmers worldwide in Java skills. Most were C or assembly programmers, so they could be considered sophisticated “systems programmers” but they were not “object-oriented.” At this point, after beginning the project in 1996, around 25 percent of all Novell code is written in Java and its products are deployed more rapidly and with greater flexibility into the marketplace. 86 Another example is Computer Associates, a large New York-area firm that “believes in re-inventing people.” Five years ago, its work was focused on mainframes. Today, its portfolio is split about equally between mainframe and client-server applications, and this has been achieved without any layoffs. More discussion of employer efforts in training is provided in Box 7.8.

85  

Nancy Stewart, assistant to the Vice President of Talent, IBM, in a presentation to the Committee on Workforce Needs in Information Technology, September 22, 1999.

86  

Holbrook, Steven. 1999. “Reengineering with Java: A Novell Perspective,” Distributed Computing (October).

Suggested Citation:"Longer-Term Strategies for Increasing the Supply of Qualified Labor: Training and Education." National Research Council. 2001. Building a Workforce for the Information Economy. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9830.
×

BOX 7.8 Training in ASTD Firms

Larger firms, and the human resources development experts they employ, often participate actively in the American Society for Training and Development (ASTD), a professional association.1 In an ongoing effort to measure the value of training and skills, ASTD provides a free benchmarking service to organizations that provide detailed information on their training investments, innovative human resources practices, and performance outcomes. In 1998, about 750 organizations participated in this process, reporting on their training activities and expenditures during 1997. Large firms in several sectors that employ large numbers of IT workers, as well as the IT sector, participated in the study.2

Among this small,3 self-selected sample, the IT sector was a leader,4 with the highest training expenditures as a percentage of payroll and one of the highest expenditures per employee, when compared to other industry sectors. Not surprisingly, the IT sector led in the use of advanced training delivery technologies. Although reporting one of the highest levels of internal trainers per employee (compared to other sectors), IT firms also used a large percentage of outside trainers and independent consultants, educational institutions, and product suppliers.

During 1999, an even smaller group of 276 organizations responded to a new component of the ASTD benchmarking survey, designed to measure intellectual capital. Because this new portion of the survey is difficult and time-consuming, only those organizations most committed to innovative training and human resources practices are likely to respond.5 Among this group of organizations, the single largest group is IT companies. Overall, the 276 firms, including large IT firms, had low turnover rates (averaging 11.5 percent) and high levels of basic IT literacy, and they spent an average of 2.2 percent of payroll on training.

1  

Founded in 1944, ASTD focuses on workplace learning and performance issues. The association provides information, research, and analysis, as well as conferences, expositions, seminars, and publications. ASTD is made up of more than 70,000 people, working in more than 15,000 companies, government agencies, colleges, and universities worldwide. Additional information is available online at <www.astd.org>.

2  

In the financial, insurance, and real estate sector, Allstate, Aetna, Citibank, Chase Manhattan Bank; in manufacturing, Boeing, Caterpiller, Hoffmann-La Roche, Johnson & Johnson, Levi Strauss, Lockheed Martin; in government, the U.S. Departments of Energy, Health and Human Services, and Transportation and the Office of Personnel Management; in the IT sector (as defined by ASTD—see footnote 4), AT&T, Compaq, IBM, Intel, MCI, Motorola, Sprint, Qualcomm, Xerox.

3  

By comparison, the U.S. Census Bureau estimates that there are nearly 5 million private business establishments in the United States as a whole.

4  

The information technology sector—defined by ASTD to include computer, electronics, and communications equipment manufacturers; software designers; telecommunications services; and information technology services and consulting firms—made up 15.3 percent of the 750 respondents to the 1998 benchmarking survey.

5  

“Intellectual Capital: Measuring It Like It Matters,” a presentation by Bassi et al., American Society for Training and Development, January 13, 2000, National Center for Postsecondary Improvement Policy Seminar (supported by the Office of Educational Research and Improvement, U.S. Department of Education).

Suggested Citation:"Longer-Term Strategies for Increasing the Supply of Qualified Labor: Training and Education." National Research Council. 2001. Building a Workforce for the Information Economy. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9830.
×
7.2.8 Approaches to Shared Training

As they work to develop stable, successful employment and training programs, employers of IT workers may consider the model of regional training consortia. These consortia are organizations (often incorporated as nonprofits) that are funded primarily by member companies and that work in partnership with education, government, and/or organized labor.87

Such regional consortia can help to overcome the “free rider” problem that results when some firms (often the larger firms) invest in education and training, while other firms “steal” the trained employees. They also allow member companies to pool their training resources and achieve economies of scale. Many IT employers have already begun to develop shared education and training programs through organizations such as Joint Venture: Silicon Valley, the Massachusetts Software Council, the Maryland High Technology Council, the Northern Virginia Regional Partnership, and the New York New Media Association. One kind of economy of scale results from the fact that the number of personnel a single company can spare for training activities may not be large enough to justify the cost of that training if it is provided in-house. Banding together in a training consortia allows companies to provide a “critical mass” of employees for training that can be justified on a sufficiently low cost-perperson basis.

Often, the first step in developing shared education and training programs is to analyze the local education and training system. For example, Joint Venture: Silicon Valley commissioned a study that not only examined the availability of skilled IT workers, but also surveyed local high school students to assess their knowledge of, and interest in, pursuing IT careers.88 This study found that the many business-education partnerships already working to educate and train current and future IT workers in Silicon Valley were “fragmented and unsustainable,” and called for a “comprehensive and regional approach.”

Another example of IT employers' efforts to share the costs and benefits of training is that of the Massachusetts Software Council (MSC). The MSC program sends volunteer IT workers into schools, both to improve network connections and to educate students about IT careers, and arranges internships for college students and recent graduates. For 3 years,

87  

There are currently 14 regional training consortia, or “high road partnerships.” See Working for America Institute. 2000. High Road Partnerships Report. Washington, D.C.: AFL-CIO.

88  

Joint Venture: Silicon Valley. 1999. Joint Venture's Workforce Study: An Analysis of the Workforce Gap in Silicon Valley. San Jose, Calif.: Joint Venture: Silicon Valley.

Suggested Citation:"Longer-Term Strategies for Increasing the Supply of Qualified Labor: Training and Education." National Research Council. 2001. Building a Workforce for the Information Economy. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9830.
×

the MSC operated a successful program that combined classroom training and internships to retrain and reemploy displaced workers in IT careers. Ninety percent of the workers, whose ages ranged from 40 to 60, were placed in new jobs, at an average annual salary of $55,000. However, this program lacked stable financial support from employers and was stopped when state and federal funding ran out.89

Existing organizations working to develop sustained infrastructure for shared training of IT workers might learn from the example of the training consortia that exist in other industries. Employers in a variety of industries, including the graphic arts industry in San Francisco, metal-working firms in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and hospitals in Philadelphia and New York, financially support these consortia. For example, the graphic arts industry in San Francisco supports a consortium that provides workshops and courses to advertising, printing, and graphic design professionals, using the latest computer hardware and software. Consortia provide a cost-effective way to upgrade the skills of current employees, improving job performance and customer satisfaction.90

Most of these regional training consortia have won state and federal funding, allowing them to expand their pool of trainees beyond the employees of member companies. For example, the hospital consortium in Philadelphia currently trains about 10,000 people per year, about half of whom are hospital employees and half of whom are members of the public. Federal and state welfare-to-work grants support remedial basic education and occupational training for former welfare recipients, while federal displaced-worker funds support training and outplacement programs for laid-off hospital workers. Most recently, the consortium won a $560,000 discretionary grant from the U.S. Department of Labor, funded by H-1B visa fees, to provide technical training for RNs and LPNs. Hospitals that participate in the Philadelphia consortium rely on the consortium for help in recruiting and training nurses' aides and licensed practical nurses. Federal funding has helped employers tap labor pools, such as welfare recipients, that require remediation of basic skills and support services as well as technical skill training.

89  

According to Suzanne Teegarden, former director of the Massachusetts State Training Agency, the small numbers of trainees involved (about 50 per year) made it impossible to justify further public funding.

90  

For example, the 12 hotels participating in the San Francisco Hotel Partnership Project have found that involving workers in designing and implementing training programs has resulted in higher scores on guest satisfaction surveys.

Suggested Citation:"Longer-Term Strategies for Increasing the Supply of Qualified Labor: Training and Education." National Research Council. 2001. Building a Workforce for the Information Economy. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9830.
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7.3 INTEGRATING WORK AND LEARNING

The committee has heard much testimony that employers prefer a combination of formal education and training with work experience, especially for positions above entry level. Chapter 2 discusses the notion of “situated” learning and the idea that formal education and training, by themselves, do not lead to true mastery of IT work. All workers, including IT workers, develop and refine some of their most critical skills on the job. Experts who have studied the reasons that formal training can fail to translate into improved job performance have identified social and contextual factors as critical. For example, if a worker receives training in a new skill but has no opportunity to apply and refine the new skills once back at work, the training will have a limited impact on job performance. Similarly, the degree to which the trained worker's supervisor supports that individual in applying the new skills influences the degree to which formal training and education transfer to the job.91

Against this background, employers who seek IT workers with some experience in addition to formal training are behaving rationally. To improve training transfer, many companies are experimenting with innovative approaches for training that integrate work and learning. For example, in 1995 Apple Computer reorganized its management training, based on the assumption that most “students” already understand the basics. 92 The reorganization shifted from a behavioral to an experiential approach that included shorter training sessions focused on existing work groups to build teamwork, classroom exercises based on participants ' actual challenges and problems on the job, smaller class sizes, and providing training at the trainees' location. In short, the goal was to see training holistically, as an organizational intervention, rather than as a limited program.

The Xerox Corporation, which has sponsored extensive research into situated learning at its Palo Alto Research Center (Xerox PARC), has also adopted “situated” training for its sales agents. In so doing, the company decided to support and leverage the learning that already happens on the job by offering dedicated, field-based, new-hire learning support. The support system was designed to integrate learning with work, build on the new hire's knowledge and skill incrementally, and help the new hire develop relationships within his or her work communities. Its goal was to enable the new hire's ability to put the training into practice in the

91  

Ford, J. Kevin. 1997. “Transfer of Training: An Updated Review and Analysis,” Performance Improvement Quarterly 10(2):22-41.

92  

Keegan, Linda, and Betsy Jacobson. 1995. “Training Goes Modular at Apple,” Training and Development, July.

Suggested Citation:"Longer-Term Strategies for Increasing the Supply of Qualified Labor: Training and Education." National Research Council. 2001. Building a Workforce for the Information Economy. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9830.
×

context in which it would be used. Following a successful pilot test, this support system was implemented nationally in 1999.93 Although national data are not yet available, anecdotal evidence indicates that the program has been very successful. For example, one group of new hires, while still participating in the 8-week training program, together sold over $1 million of Xerox equipment.

Companies that have drawn on the situated perspective to change their training programs have generally found that the new approaches are less expensive. They involve less time away from productive work, which is the most expensive component of most company training. In addition, they require less expense for classroom space and trainer salaries, because they more frequently take place in the regular workplace and may use a manager or facilitator, rather than a training specialist.

In practical terms, what does it mean to integrate work and learning? Consider one example found by many employers to be successful and effective: internships. Such experiences tend to be more successful at integrating work and learning when they expose students to various aspects of a company, various jobs within a company, and various types of assignments that might come up in a job, and internships should allow students to apply some skills they have learned in the classroom to a real-world project.

From the educator's perspective, structured internships that are closely related to the content of the courses can be a useful complement to those courses. The structure is needed to ensure that the internship does indeed include some training and is not just “work experience.” However, structure does not imply taking the intern off the job and putting him/her into a training classroom, a move that would defeat the purpose of the internship. Instead, it might mean facilitating the intern's natural interactions with colleagues and encouraging informal learning. This could be as simple as planning deliberately who the intern should go to lunch with each day to get a good overview of the organization and jobs within it. Or it could mean assigning the intern one or two mentors. The mentors who guide interns in the workplace could also work as adjunct faculty in the educational institution. They could bring a bit of the real world into the classroom, whether as actual instructors or simply as regular visitors. This would allow them to get a better idea of the education students are getting, and help them place student interns into projects that will allow them to apply their “book learning. ”

93  

Cefkin, Melissa. 1999. “The Integration of Work and Learning for Xerox's New Hire Sales Representatives: A Project Review,” draft. Palo Alto, Calif.: The Institute for Research on Learning.

Suggested Citation:"Longer-Term Strategies for Increasing the Supply of Qualified Labor: Training and Education." National Research Council. 2001. Building a Workforce for the Information Economy. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9830.
×

Finally, cognitive theory and an examination of actual engineering design practice suggest that engineering is more effectively learned through integrated experiences than through formal classroom teaching. In contrast to a pedagogical approach in which design and analysis are taught in separate classes, students might be engaged in exercises that integrate problem formulation, analysis, and synthesis. For example, these exercises and other classroom experiences might be based on videotapes that illuminate how students apply formal knowledge in practice, how they learn, and the social context in which they learn; in addition, these new exercises could be used as a form of educational assessment.94

Others argue that current engineering education focuses too exclusively on the abstract objects of engineering design,95 ignoring the reality that design takes place within a larger social and organizational context. These authors suggest that engineering should teach all aspects of design, including the process of negotiating among interested parties, as well as the feasibility of manufacturing, construction, assembly, prototyping, and cost. Students should be presented with open-ended problems that encourage them to ask a variety of questions, and not only questions specifically related to engineering. This, in turn, suggests that engineering faculty should act as coaches or mentors, and should have broad backgrounds, not narrowly specialized expertise.

7.4 RECAP

Education and training are strategies for facilitating an upward shift in the domestic supply of IT workers. Education begins with high-quality K-12 education. In particular, improving secondary mathematics and science education can help young people develop intellectual, reasoning, and problem-solving skills needed to succeed in higher education for IT and in many IT jobs. In addition, because advanced high school mathematics and science courses are prerequisites for entry into many 4-year IT programs as well as some IT jobs, improvements in mathematics and science education should increase the number of college students who are able to graduate with IT degrees and succeed in IT jobs.

The supply of IT workers could also be increased if institutions of higher education increased the rate at which they educate and graduate individuals with IT-related degrees. The number of graduates with 4-year degrees in IT-related disciplines does not meet the current demand for IT

94  

Linde, Charlotte, M. Brereton, J. Greeno, J. Lewis, and L. Leifer. 1993. “An Exploration of Engineering Learning.” Palo Alto, Calif.: Institute for Research and Learning.

95  

Bucciarelli, Louis L., and Sarah Kuhn, “Engineering Education and Engineering Practice: Improving the Fit, ” in Barley and Orr, 1997, Between Craft and Science.

Suggested Citation:"Longer-Term Strategies for Increasing the Supply of Qualified Labor: Training and Education." National Research Council. 2001. Building a Workforce for the Information Economy. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9830.
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workers (especially those doing Category 1 work), and employers now hire large numbers of college graduates without IT degrees for Category 1 jobs. However, formal exposure to computer science and related subjects will become increasingly important for Category 1 jobs in the future. College-level education in IT-related disciplines is generally of high quality, providing workers the skills they need to contribute to large IT projects and to adapt to changing technology. Workers with such degrees can be a key asset in helping companies succeed in the marketplace. However, the quality of both 2-year and 4-year programs in IT disciplines could be improved by increasing work-based internships, engaging IT professionals in design and delivery of instruction, and generally strengthening the linkages between the workplace and the classroom.

Institutional factors, such as a lack of qualified faculty, computing facilities, and classroom space, limit the potential for rapidly increasing the number of enrollments and graduates from 4-year IT programs. However, increasing the number of students with IT minors may be possible within a shorter time frame, enhancing the supply of IT workers.

Two-year colleges have the potential to rapidly increase supplies of workers qualified for some types of IT jobs. Currently, community colleges provide initial preparation to some students who transfer to a 4-year IT program, and graduate others with associate's degrees in IT fields. In addition, community colleges are playing a growing role in upgrading the skills of current IT workers and training workers from other occupations for IT careers. The number of schools offering IT training, and enrollments in those schools, are growing already, and could potentially grow even faster.

Increasing enrollments and graduates from advanced postgraduate education can also help to relieve labor market tightness. IT researchers and workers with advanced degrees may help to enhance the productivity of both current and future workers through research and development, thus slowing the rate of growth in demand for new workers. At the same time, postgraduate education provides the “seed corn” or faculty to educate the next generation of IT workers. However, current IT labor markets provide little financial incentive for individuals from the United States to obtain postgraduate degrees, particularly at the master 's level.

The pace of technological change in IT increases the costs and benefits of training for both employers and workers. Employers gain by having an alternative to hiring new workers, and thus, appropriately structured training, involving the integration of work experience with “formal ” learning, can help to relieve tightness in the IT labor market. On the other hand, workers who receive training may be more likely to leave, and economic and competitive pressures discourage employers from providing support for ongoing training. From the worker's standpoint, rapid

Suggested Citation:"Longer-Term Strategies for Increasing the Supply of Qualified Labor: Training and Education." National Research Council. 2001. Building a Workforce for the Information Economy. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9830.
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technological change increases the intellectual burdens to stay current, but those who take on these burdens and keep their skills up to date are usually more employable than those who have not.

Over the longer term, ongoing training could relieve tightness in IT labor markets both by reducing turnover (which causes vacancies) and by increasing supply. Fully trained workers would likely be more productive, thus reducing the rate of growth in demand for new IT workers. And with well-established ongoing training systems in place, employers could more easily hire and productively employ workers from other occupations, thus increasing the total supply of skilled IT workers.

The potential contribution of ongoing training to increasing the supply of IT workers will likely be easier to realize over the long term because in the future, the IT workforce will include a larger proportion of workers with a formal IT education. With strong foundation skills, these workers may be easier to retrain than those in the current workforce.

Suggested Citation:"Longer-Term Strategies for Increasing the Supply of Qualified Labor: Training and Education." National Research Council. 2001. Building a Workforce for the Information Economy. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9830.
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A look at any newspaper's employment section suggests that competition for qualified workers in information technology (IT) is intense. Yet even experts disagree on not only the actual supply versus demand for IT workers but also on whether the nation should take any action on this economically important issue.

Building a Workforce for the Information Age offers an in-depth look at IT. workers-where they work and what they do-and the policy issues they inspire. It also illuminates numerous areas that have been questioned in political debates:

  • Where do people in IT jobs come from, and what kind of education and training matter most for them?
  • Are employers' and workers' experiences similar or different in various parts of the country?
  • How do citizens of other countries factor into the U.S. IT workforce?
  • What do we know about IT career paths, and what does that imply for IT workers as they age? And can we measure what matters?

The committee identifies characteristics that differentiate IT work from other categories of high-tech work, including an informative contrast with biotechnology. The book also looks at the capacity of the U.S. educational system and of employer training programs to produce qualified workers.

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