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Florida CIOs, educators team up to improve workforce

By Patrick Thibodeau
July 3, 2002 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - When hiring was at its slowest last year, Hugh Moore, vice president of IT and CIO at Siemens Information and Communications Networks Inc. in Boca Raton, Fla., started thinking about the ability of his state's educational institutions to meet employment needs.
Moore's message to other Florida IT managers was simple: They shouldn't compete for employees but should work together to improve training.
"We want to be able to draw on people who have been steered by our leadership and vision so they are one step ahead of the game," he said.
Other IT managers agreed that workforce training improvements are needed despite current trends.
According to a study released last week by the AEA, formerly known as the American Electronics Association, the number of high-tech jobs in the U.S. grew by about 1.5% last year, a gain of 80,000 jobs, bringing the sector to 5.6 million employees (see story).
In comparison, high-tech sector employment increased by 440,800 jobs from 1999 to 2000, representing a 9% gain, according to the Washington-based AEA's analysis of federal labor data.
Florida has the fifth-largest high-tech workforce in the U.S., with 238,700 employees. From 1999 to 2000, the state's high-tech workforce jumped by 17,000 jobs, a gain of almost 8%. But this year, it grew by only 3,600 jobs, mirroring the national average.
Moore's message, delivered to the central Florida chapter of the Chicago-based Society for Information Management (SIM), corresponded with a public-sector initiative in Orlando called O-Force, which has similar goals. Educators and CIOs soon began talking.
Among those involved in the workforce training effort is Garrett Grainger, vice president of information services at Dixon Ticonderoga Co., a maker of writing instruments and other consumer products in Heathrow, Fla., and head of the local SIM chapter. Many companies use midrange to large systems, such as IBM's AS/400, but local schools aren't producing students with those skill sets, said Grainger, who has had to hire out-of-state candidates.
Educators say they are eager to learn about local needs for technology skills. "We want to prepare people for real jobs that are available in communities," said Hugh Rogers, a professor in the computer and engineering department at the University of Central Florida in Orlando.
The Florida IT managers are providing input on college and high school curricula and are making internships and training available to teachers to sharpen their technical skills. In the next few months, organizers said, they hope to establish an online database of the technologies used by local companies and the kinds of training offered at local institutions.
The grass-roots effort in Florida is partof a national trend to link employers with secondary schools and universities, said Marjorie Bynum, who heads workforce development at the Information Technology Association of America in Arlington, Va. These partnerships "help to ensure that five or 10 years from now we have a reliable and skilled workforce," she said.
The Florida IT managers aren't expecting to see results overnight. Grainger said it may take 36 to 48 months before he begins seeing the jobs skills he needs in local graduates.

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