By the Potomac Conference's InfoComm Industry Cluster Working Group
Defining Our Mission and Scope
Our charter was to address the workforce shortage issue in the InfoComm industry cluster. The InfoComm cluster has become the key economic driver in the Greater Washington Region. With 345,000 employees and growing, the InfoComm workforce already exceeds that of the current federal government. The growth within the InfoComm cluster is compelling in itself, but its impact on employment in other industries cannot be ignored. In a recent study commissioned by the Potomac KnowledgeWay it was determined that for each InfoComm cluster job created, one additional job is created in other industry sectors.
Because all industries are experiencing workforce shortages and because of the interdependency of the InfoComm cluster and other industries in the region, determining the workforce shortage exclusively in the InfoComm cluster of was difficult. Moreover, despite periodic downsizing from M&A and restructuring including the federal government layoffs which reduced its regional workforce nearly 16% since 1993 from 392,000 to 333,000 (December 1998) -- most available workers have been absorbed into the workforce.
First, there are not enough workers with the right InfoComm skills to meet the demand in this region. New job growth continues to outpace the number of InfoComm workers made available in the region by universities, special training programs, commercial schools, community colleges, etc. Current estimates for job openings in this region's InfoComm cluster range from 19,000 to 50,000+. Not only is that number very hard to quantify; it is also difficult to qualify. To date, no study has been able to articulate the various levels of jobs and related skills that those numbers reflect for the InfoComm industry cluster in this region.
Second, this region is not creating enough new workers to fill the short- and long-term industry needs. Current anecdotal and quantifiable research indicates that InfoComm businesses in this region rely on strategies mirrored around the nation a) poaching skilled workers from regional competitors, b) recruiting skilled workers from outside the region and c) importing workers with H-1B visas.
However, none of these strategies compensate for the lost opportunity costs of growing our own workforce. Furthermore, these strategies do nothing to minimize the skills gap that is perpetuated in this region when industry does not invest in growing its own workforce. The practice of stealing experienced InfoComm workers from regional competitors may boost employee salaries, but will lose its appeal as more companies must fight for the same small pool of workers. Similarly, the nationwide shortage of qualified InfoComm workers and the aggressive recruiting of newly trained workers in other technology centers, such as Silicon Valley, Boston, Austin, etc., impact the ability of InfoComm companies here to attract new workers to the area.
It is well known that importing workers from other regions has been one of the traditional ways to fill vacancies when local resources dry up or require more time to renew. However, even the importation of workers in technical professions from outside of the United States has not dented the current InfoComm workforce shortage. Although Congress attempts to compensate for the IT worker shortage by temporarily boosting the number of H-1B visas from 65,000 to 115,000, these numbers can be misleading for our region. First, the total number of visas granted includes all job categories of which InfoComm is only a small portion. Second, the total number of InfoComm visas granted is meant to address the national IT worker shortage of which our region is, again, only a small portion. It should be noted that since H-1B visas have a six-year limit, the importation strategy must be considered a minimal, short-term fix for this region's InfoComm industry cluster.
Including the three strategies mentioned above, there are eight current strategies used to address the InfoComm workforce shortage in the Greater Washington Region:
Ownership of the Workforce Problem
The federal government, state governments and universities will not be able to solve the problem on their own. It is the responsibility of the InfoComm industry cluster to take the lead in cooperating with government agencies, universities, other learning institutions and not-for-profit organizations throughout the region to address the issue. If this region's InfoComm cluster is to maintain its leadership position, then this region must also become the top producer of qualified technology workers.
There is no silver bullet, or cure-all, for this region's InfoComm workforce problem. Moreover, the Greater Washington Region is unique from other high tech centers around the country in that our InfoComm cluster spans two states and the District of Columbia. As a result, there is no existing regional authority that can address the workforce problem.
Recommendations to the Potomac Conference Leadership
The InfoComm Industry Cluster working group recommends that the leadership of the Potomac Conference take one major action:
Identify an existing organization or group of organizations
Subsequent to that determination, the identified organization will:
Action I. Petition the federal government to adjust the experience qualifications required under government contracts.
Action II. Enhance the clearinghouse of workforce development programs by working in conjunction with educators and employers to design methods for evaluating these programs. In this process, it will be important for the employers not only to provide input but also to provide ongoing support for these programs.
Action III. Provide an instructional resource designed to 1) train employers on best practices of internship and hands-on training programs and 2) enable more companies to integrate successful internship programs into their short- and long-term workforce development strategies.
In an effort to establish sustainable patterns of regional cooperation among the various industry sectors, the companies within those sectors, the learning institutions involved in training and education, and the government agencies, the InfoComm Industry Cluster working group suggests the following objectives for the organization:
The InfoComm Working Group identified a number of steps that a coordinating organization could endorse and work on with appropriate regional resources to meet the proposed objectives above:
We need to come together as a region. We need to engage the InfoComm industry cluster leadership to become a proactive participant in setting a regional workforce agenda. And we need the various groups in the region, while respecting their specific missions, to work together, applying focused resources and energy to certain goals that will benefit the entire region.
The Potomac Conference InfoComm Industry Cluster Working Group
One of the contributing factors to the effectiveness of this working group was its engaged and focused core of voices from all regional jurisdictions the District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia. Approximately 50 people representing industry, associations, tech councils, higher education, government agencies, not-for-profit organizations, and specific workforce development programs actively participated in seven meetings and countless conference calls held over the past four months.
Special thanks go to Dan Bannister, Marc Weiss, Cathy Mattax, Mary Frances leMat, Neal Grunstra, Tony Buzzelli, and Cathy Lange for their time, effort and perseverance. Much appreciation to all of the working group members who moved this discussion toward action.
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