- Report Published -
|Study of the Demand for Computer Scientists, Engineers, and Other Technologically Skilled Workers in Virginia|
|State Council of Higher Education for Virginia|
|SJR 218 (Regular Session, 1997)|
|The General Assembly requested that the Council of Higher Education study the demand for computer scientists, engineers, and other technologically skilled workers in Virginia. Implicit in assessing this demand is answering two questions: (1) is there a shortfall between the demand for technologically prepared workers and the supply; and (2) if there is, what actions can the Commonwealth take through its institutions of higher education to reduce this shortfall?|
This report accordingly offers the results of the study's research and a series of recommended actions that address these questions. It notes that these recommendations deal with the current circumstances. They are not meant as complete answers to issues related to the long-term and significant shifts in the character of the national work force and the ability of the educational system to anticipate and respond to these changes. However, they do provide an infrastructure for dealing with future-and as yet unknown-work force educational needs.
The report provides a brief summary of national statistics that indicate a nationwide shortage of technologically competent workers. It then delves into a more extensive examination of the shortage in Virginia. Studies done by a variety of agencies and private organizations in the state indicate that Virginia will need at least 22,000 new technology workers each year over the next five-year period. Although it is well understood that Northern Virginia will need the bulk of these workers, other regions of the state will also need a portion of them. Until a study done by the Center for Innovative Technology is released, the exact breakdown of work force needs by region is unavailable.
The next section of the report discusses the current efforts at providing technologically competent workers. Research done at the State Council of Higher Education shows a fairly steady-state production in Virginia of engineering and computer science degree program graduates of around 5,000 per year. The report cautions that although this figure is only one-quarter of the projected need of 22,000, not all of the 22,000 will actually require a technology-related degree. Again, the CIT study will shed more light on the exact nature of the jobs for which workers will be needed, and consequently on the appropriate education for them.
As it is, it is very hard to determine the true educational needs of the 22,000, since some will require the full 4-year-or more-degree for their jobs, some only a 2-year degree, and many will probably only need training in specific skills.
An associated question of what is being done in the educational system concerning the technological preparedness of the general working public is also of concern. While there will be a given number of individuals in technological jobs, most of the work force in the state need to have a set of basic technological competencies to function in the modern work environment. It is important to identify those basic needs and incorporate them into the educational system at all levels.
In spite of the information gaps on the exact extent of the need, much is already being accomplished to prepare technologically competent workers, both in the specifically technological disciplines and at the level of general need. The report details these efforts.
The last section before the recommendations discusses the areas where there are obvious shortcomings in the Commonwealth's efforts to prepare the work force for the jobs of tomorrow. It points out that there does not exist a good definition of the skills that will be needed by the various points of the work force spectrum (ranging from "general work force" through "technician" to "technology researchers and managers"). This leads to a fragmented, uncoordinated effort to instill technological skill development into the educational experience. This lack of accepted definitions is leaving some students without adequate technology skills upon graduation, and causing others to obtain more education than they need in preparing for their careers.
There is also a basic lack of coordination between demand (the work place) and supply (the educational arena) in technological skill development. While there are many efforts in place to address work force development needs, the lack of coordination within the education community may result in unnecessary duplication of effort by program providers, and confusion on the part of those in need of educational services.
The bureaucratic nature of program development and recruitment hampers the responsiveness of the state's higher education institutions in dealing with the issue of technological competence. The institutions need regulatory flexibility as well as entrepreneurial drive to initiate faster curriculum changes in response to the turbulent rate of change in business and industry.
Finally, there still are barriers imposed upon developing a technologically prepared work force by the cost of education, the lack of adequate post-secondary preparation in the K-12 system, and socioeconomic factors related to specific regions of the state.
In response to the needs determined by the study, the report provides eight recommendations to the Commonwealth, the institutions of higher education, and the private sector. The recommendations identify several important policy issues. For recommendations needing specific financial support during the 1998-2000 biennium, figures are noted in the body of the report. Other recommendations require further analysis for long-term implications, feasibility, and cost. For these recommendations, the Council offers no specific budget figures at this time and reserves the right to review the recommendations as more information about fiscal impact becomes available.
1) Provide a variety of mechanisms to develop and communicate the requirements for a technologically prepared work force to all involved parties.
2) Provide financial incentives and regulatory flexibility for the state's colleges and universities to respond faster to the needs of the marketplace.
3) Continue and expand new approaches to instruction in the state's higher education system (both public and private), with an emphasis on collaboration, distance learning, and innovative use of technology.
4) Ensure that the graduates of Virginia's colleges and institutions have the tools and instruction to leave them with the general and specific technological skills they will need in the work place.
5) Set up technology and other academic programs with the view that educational needs no longer exist in a succinct, one-time event in early life environment, but are part of a life-long process of learning.
6) Ensure that students have access to work place experience during their education so that they may fully understand their own educational needs.
7) Fund the financial aid and tuition assistance programs that help the citizens of Virginia obtain needed education.
8) Work closely with the K-12 system to ensure that both K-12 teachers and students have required technological competencies.