No advancement of the past two decades has changed the way Americans work and play more than the advent of the personal computer. The computer and the related explosion of the Internet have opened new doors for learning and increased productivity in the workplace, and have spawned new industries devoted to enhancing and expanding the role of technology in everyday life.
Unfortunately, this reliance on computers also threatens to create a gap between those who have the training to utilize this technology, and those who will be left behind in our fast-moving digital age. With each passing day, America’s economy becomes tied more and more to technology in one form or another. The American Electronics Association estimates that since 1993, the high-tech industry has added more than 1 million jobs to the American economy and that figure is still growing. But despite this demand, estimates from the Department of Commerce predict there will continue to be a shortage of properly trained workers to fill the needs of the high-tech industry. According to recent figures from the Technology Association of America, more than 300,000 highly-skilled positions in information technology are currently not filled. In addition, the Department of Labor projects that our economy will require more than 130,000 information technology jobs in three fields — systems analysts, computer scientists and engineers, and computer programmers — every year for the next 10 years. But where will they come from?
One solution that has been offered is to raise the number of visas awarded to foreign workers who possess the technology skills that employers seek. But this temporary fix should not be considered a long-term solution to the need for more properly trained U.S. workers. I believe that the best way to increase the number of American information technology workers is to offer incentives to employers willing to update training for their employees. At the same time, we must also do more to ensure there are an adequate number of teachers available with the proper certification to teach technology.
In order to address both these goals, I cosponsored legislation last year known as the Information Technology Act of 2000. Unfortunately, this bipartisan bill stalled in the 106th Congress. However, I plan to continue my support once it is reintroduced in the Senate later this year. Under my proposal, incentives would be offered to educators to earn information technology certification. At the same time, grants would be awarded to companies willing to partner with colleges or universities to establish information technology programs for a number of underserved populations.
Qualified teachers would be eligible to receive a $5,000 bonus for earning information technology certification. In turn, this could dramatically increase the number of teachers available to give students the computer skills they need to compete in the global marketplace. Teachers not only need the tools and resources to educate our children, but they also need proper training. While nearly two-thirds of the classrooms in the U.S. have computers connected to the Internet, in a recent survey by the National Center for Education Statistics, 79 percent of teachers responding said they don’t get enough help using technology in the classroom.
Not only will students benefit under this proposal, but high-tech companies based in Nevada would have the reassurance that local school districts have the resources and teacher base to cultivate and develop a highly trained workforce.
This emphasis on meeting the demand for new skilled workers underscores a second goal of my legislation. Under this proposal, grants would be awarded to partnerships between private sector organizations and institutions of higher learning that agree to carry out information technology training programs for veterans, the elderly, dislocated workers, women, Native Americans and other minority communities. The act would authorize the secretaries of education and labor to make grants to pay the federal share (50 percent) of establishing and carrying out information technology training programs. This concept directly benefits employers, who will have trained workers to fill key jobs, enabling businesses to remain competitive in the fast-paced market of today.
I urge the business community in Nevada to not only support this proposal, but also to look for other new and innovative partnerships that will bring together those who teach technology and those in need of technology training. We must do all we can as a nation to prepare our workforce of the future to fill the hundreds of thousands of high-paying high-tech jobs that are being created. At the same time we must also find ways to include those Nevadans who have been left behind by our new economy. I can think of no better investment for businesses today or for the America of tomorrow.