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Think Twice The World Doesn't Revolve Around IT

Before we decide that our collective dollars must go to recruiting IT candidates, let's remember that there are others out there who have the same problems.

April 26, 2001
Related Topics: Candidate Sourcing
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The private sector and the government are hell-bent on solving the acute short-term need for more technical employees. It's a legitimate concern. One out of 12 IT jobs will be vacant this year, say the folks at the Information Technology Association of America, which lobbies good and hard for the IT industry (many of you).

    The IT sector already has succeeded in getting U.S. visa rules relaxed. That's helping many of you hire more employees from foreign countries. Now, they want the government to give tax breaks to companies that provide, promote, and reimburse employees for IT training -- and to employees who receive it. The ITAA also proposes a host of committees, advisory boards, and commissions to study the problem.

    That's all good stuff; don't get me wrong. But before we decide that our collective dollars must go to recruiting IT candidates, let's remember there are others out there who have the same problems, including:

Education
    You know all the campaigns around the country to decrease class size? It's been great. But it means that we'll need a whole lot more people near the chalkboard.

    The American Federation of Teachers says 2 million new teachers are needed to replace those who are retiring over the next 10 years. The shortage of teachers is a particularly urgent problem in urban areas, and in fields such as math, science, and special education.

    And the pay ceilings in education aren't helping matters.

    "Teachers can go into some other industry where they're earning two or three times as much money," says Darrell Capwell, spokesperson for the teachers' federation. "Addressing the salary issue would make teaching a competitive field."

    Teacher training is also in short supply. Often, inexperienced or under trained teachers are put in the largest classes with the most difficult students, Capwell says.

    Not surprisingly, about 40 percent of teachers bolt after the first five years in the classroom.

    You've got to wonder: If we don't have math and science teachers, who's going to teach all of these future IT people?

Nursing
    Many of us have stories of a friend who's been stuck by the wrong needle, or the right needle in the wrong place. That's what happens when you're in a hurry, or are in a position for which you weren't trained.

    The lack of nurses -- not just in the United States but also around the world -- is reaching crisis proportions in some hospitals. Vanderbilt University estimates that by 2020, the United States will have 20 percent fewer nurses than necessary.

    Among the many possible solutions: re-allocating government training dollars to the most vital areas, such as critical care, and encouraging outreach programs to attract more men (the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services says 95 percent of all nurses are women) and minorities (89 percent of all registered nurses are white).

Law enforcement
    Let's not forget the cops. Police departments around the country are feeling the effects of the long economic contraction. A lot of people who normally would have gone into law enforcement went into more lucrative professions.

    "You start competing for resources with so many other places -- who's paying the most, who's got the better retirement package. It's definitely a challenge," says Lieutenant Horace Frank of the Los Angeles Police Department. New York's in the same boat.

    The LAPD is authorized to hire 11,000 officers. It can find only 9,072.

    Solutions to the shortage of law-enforcement officers include hiring more recruiters, conducting a PR campaign to improve the image of the profession, and offering college scholarships in exchange for an agreement from prospective job candidates to perform public-safety work for a specific number of years.

    Will those solutions work? Heck, we don't know. What we do know is that when there's a shrinking pool of candidates in information technology, at least you can increase pay as an incentive to attract more people.

    Not so with other professionals, like teachers. Their pay is limited not by the free market but by us, the taxpayers. We should tell our elected officials that we want to help our schools and hospitals, and to protect our streets. All the Java programmers in the world can't do that.


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