The economic explosion of the information technology (IT) industry and the dramatic rise of e-commerce has created an enormous demand for workers who can create, apply and use these rapidly changing technologies. The Department of Commerce estimates that by 2006 the number of computer engineers and scientists will grow by 114% and the number of systems analysts will increase by 103%. Employers throughout America are having difficulties recruiting and retaining workers with the knowledge and skill sets that are currently in demand. The Information Technology Association of America (ITAA) estimates that the demand for core IT workers (electrical engineers, systems analysts and scientists, operation and systems researchers and analysts and software programmers and engineers) will reach 1.6 million this year alone. And, according to a new study by the 21st Century Workforce Commission, the U.S. needs to take immediate steps to address the workforce demands of the IT industry, or risk losing its competitive edge.
One of the ways in which the American IT industry might alleviate this tremendous demand for workers is by investing in the relatively untapped resource of women and minorities. A recent Information Technology Association of America study reveals that women represent 25% and minorities represent only 15.4% of the IT workforce. More specifically, American Indians represent 0.2%, African Americans represent 6% and Hispanic Americans represent 3.4% of the IT workforce. To increase the diversity of their workforce and meet their labor supply demands IT companies should become more aggressive in collaborating with community-based organizations to develop outreach programs and workforce training programs for women and minorities. These collaborations are essential to removing barriers of entry into IT professions such as: negative image of the profession, the need for encouragement and role models, opportunity and access, recruitment and obtaining the appropriate skills.
Over the past year, national civil rights leaders have begun to address the issue of disparities among women and minorities in the IT workforce. Many of these civil rights activists have asserted that the lack of a gender and racial balance in the IT workforce reflects historical and systemic inequalities experienced throughout American society. These inequalities, including household income and educational attainment, are also considered major factors in determining on which side of the digital divide a particular individual or household exists. The Department of Commerce's Falling Through the Net study reveals that as recent as 1998, only 25.7% of households with incomes between $20,000 and $25,000 had a computer. Only 23.2% of Black, 34.3% of American Indian and 25.5% of Hispanic households had a computer. In addition, 31.7% of single-mother households had a computer. And 31.2% of homes headed by a high school graduate had a computer (whereas 68.7% of homes headed by a college graduate had a computer).
In an attempt to provide more equitable access to the IT industry for women and minorities, Jessie Jackson's Rainbow/PUSH Coalition hosted the Digital Connections Conference in May. The conference brought Carly Fiorina, CEO of Hewlett Packard, John Chambers of Cisco Systems, Craig Barrett, CEO of Intel, Robert Knowling, CEO of Covad Communications, Hector Ruiz, President of Advance Micro Devices, John Thompson, CEO of Symantec, Ken Coleman, CEO of SGI and a number of other industry players together to address IT workforce diversity and ways to broaden participation and inclusion in the growing industry. The conference provided a forum for corporate, civic, political and community leaders to share ideas and identify solutions for a collaborative approach towards increasing workforce diversity. This sort of collaboration is identified by studies like the 21st Century Workforce Commission's A Nation of Opportunity and The Conference Board's Community Connections: Strategic Partnerships in The Digital Industries , as being essential to removing barriers to the IT industry for women and minorities.
A number of local and national non-profit organizations, supported by collaborations with corporate, federal and state investors, are effective in providing IT outreach and workforce training for women and minorities. These collaborative non-profits provide access to existing social networks that can be strategically positioned for offering workforce training and job recruitment. These organizations function as important resources for women and minorities by providing them a variety of options for gaining IT industry access. The following are examples of just a few of the many national and local non-profits that have been effective in providing workforce-training, mentoring and useful information.
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