If you’ve ever watched daytime or late-night tv you’ve probably seen the commercials for Apex, Chubb and DeVry institutes. These technical schools promise to open the doors to lucrative information technology (IT) careers with just a few months of training. Years ago, these ads prompted laughter and snide remarks. But today, the schools and their graduates are laughing all the way to the bank.
“This is such a great time in the technology job market. Anybody with six months of training from a technical school can come out and make at least $30,000,” states Sam Washington, a recruiter at Apollo Programming Industries, a black-owned technical staffing firm in Silicon Valley, California. “In two years that salary can easily double.”
The proliferation of tech graduates commanding hefty salaries has taken the stigma out of the term “vocational school.” Computer science has become one of the most popular majors in universities across the country and employers are clamoring to shore up the best and brightest, often luring them with tempting signing bonuses and stock options.
A 1998 study conducted by Virginia Tech and the Information Technology Association of America (ITAA) (www.itaa.org), in Arlington, Virginia, reveals a shortage of over 340,000 IT workers in the U.S. This deficit isn’t expected to abate anytime soon.
With the need for workers so great, companies are looking to India, Eastern Europe and South America for programmers, developers and systems analysts. Earlier this year, talent-starved firms successfully lobbied Congress for an increase in foreign worker visas from 65,000 to 90,000 annually. Still, that’s only a stopgap measure. Homegrown talent must be identified and trained in order to successfully fill the void.
But what opportunities really exist? How do you get into an industry so complex that many fear to enter its labyrinths? It begins with education. “There’s a demand across all industries for IT people,” says Bob Cohen of the ITAA. “And technical schools, vocational programs and two-year colleges do a good job of preparing them.” According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, technical careers make up almost half of the top 10 careers for the next millennium (see “The Calm Before the Storm,” February 1998). They include everything from computer scientists to systems analysts to software testers. And everyone from the novice to the technically adept, the recent college grad to the mid-career changer, can find a niche.
There are few industries that IT won’t touch-whether directly or indirectly. Career doors will fly open for application developers who can create programs designed to make computing easier for the end user. “That will include desktop publishers, graphic designers and content providers, people who can take raw technology and make it understandable,” says Lee Rubin, assistant manager of staffing at Dow Jones & Co. in Princeton, New Jersey, a provider of business news and information.
“E-commerce will drive up the demand for Internet marketing specialists who can market to consumers on the Web,” continues Rubin. “There will also be a push for human resources professionals to be more technically adept as they’re asked to