Bill would provide tax credits for IT training costs

A bipartisan group of U.S. senators introduced a bill Tuesday that would provide a tax credit to employers that invest in training programs designed to increase the IT skills of their workers.

The bill provides an incentive for companies to train workers in IT and would help reduce the number of IT jobs that go unfilled, according to Sen. Kent Conrad, a Democrat from North Dakota, one of the senators sponsoring the bill. The measure also encourages partnerships between IT companies and educators.

Conrad, who spoke at a Capitol Hill news conference, said if the United States wants to remain at the forefront of the new economy, it needs a workforce that is trained for the jobs available today and ready to compete for the high-tech jobs of the future. Training for information technology should be among the top education priorities for Congress and the nation, he added.

The tax credit could be applied against income tax toward the first US$1,500 a business spends to train an individual worker. It would increase to $2,000 per individual if the training program offered by the business were located in a specially designated area, including existing Empowerment Zones, which are depressed areas that have been designated by the government to receive special tax treatment and other incentives to spur economic development.

The bill also would amend two existing tax credit programs so individuals could better access IT training courses through them.

Demand for skilled information technology workers is already high, and experts forecast an even greater shortfall of IT workers in the future. According to the Information Technology Association of America (ITAA), there are an estimated 425,000 vacancies in the IT field nationwide.

ITAA called the introduction of the bill a vital step toward a permanent fix to the IT worker shortage in the U.S. by encouraging companies to go the extra mile in training U.S. workers for high tech jobs. Congress last year addressed the IT worker shortage by extending the Immigration and Naturalization Service’s H-1B visa program to allow in more foreign nationals to fill the jobs. Unions and academics are criticizing the decision, as they believe the shortage of IT workers has been exaggerated.

Although many high-tech companies have laid off employees recently, IT jobs still are going unfilled because there are not enough skilled people to fill them, Grant Mydland, director of the Technology Workforce Coalition, an industry group that advocates providing incentives for increasing IT training, said in a news release. Nearly half of all IT jobs that will be created in 2001 will remain vacant, according to Mydland.

The Technology Workforce Coalition was created by the Computing Technology Industry Association and the IT Training Association in 1999 and now includes a dozen IT associations and more than 500 companies. The coalition advocates IT training tax credits, changes in elementary and secondary math and science curriculum and teacher training incentives to address the IT worker shortage.

The bill is called the Technology Education and Training Act of 2001. The other senators sponsoring the bill are Tim Johnson, a Democrat from North Dakota, Harry Reid, a Democrat from Nevada, and Republicans Olympia Snowe of Maine and Mike DeWine of Ohio.

The Technology Workforce Coalition, in Arlington, Va., can be reached at