NASSCOM's IT Workforce Initiative

NASSCOM, India’s answer to the U.S.-based ITAA, has declared an IT workforce initiative to meet the peoplepower India’s expected to need by the year 2008 to meet its growing market for IT services. The current workforce totals about 800,000 people, and according to a McKinsey estimate (which I can’t seem to locate online), it’s going to need to grow to about 2.1 million over the next four years. But the efforts don’t seem to have much money behind them and therefore won’t be very practical.

From the coverage I’ve read, it looks like NASSCOM will do what it can to push educational facilities to address the skills gap through “curricula, faculty and infrastructure improvements” and encourage “young talent” to pursue tech. Kind of anemic.

The government response: The industry should try to find its own solutions and not look to government to address all its problems.

That shows a spark of regime bald-faced honesty, which is tough to find in the states. Why haven’t the feds here implemented a NAFTA-like program to retrain outsourced IT workers who want to escape a declining market — if only to ride out the downturn? Probably because that means it would have to acknowledge a declining tech market in this country, which is as real as the latest layoffs announced by firms such as EDS.

And although there’s been a lot of talk about skills gap for the last several years, honest-to-gawd programs to address it are hard to locate. (The best seem to exist at the local and county level, where creative people see needs for their specific communities and figure out a way through government largess, grants, etc. to make the training happen. Naturally, those are frequently the kinds of programs to get lopped off when government and private spending tightens up.)

Of course, these matters are cyclical. In its mid-August issue, InformationWeek addressed the decline in computer science students. The story quotes a number from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, that there will be a need for an additional 700,000 CS engineers, systems analysts, network and datacom analysts and managers over the next decade.

Aside from the fact that IT labor growth appears to be much higher in India, the fact is that students gravitate to lucrative fields. The huge numbers in the ’90s that saw IT as a ready ticket to the good life don’t view it that way right now. The best schools take their time in these matters and don’t switch directions simply because of declining enrollments. But it’s bound to have a negative impact eventually on available curriculum. And that makes it a downward spiral.

The take-away? If you’re the smarty pants that I think you are, you’ll look forward five or 10 years and start worrying now about what you’ll face then. Better to start honing those skills of yours in finding, inspiring and keeping the tech talent you want and need, whether that talent is working from here, down the street, across the country or overseas. Like fossil fuels, there's really only so much to go around.