Leaders Confront Tech Talent Shortage

May 28, 2003

Colin C. Haley

Given all the recent layoffs, you'd think the pipeline of engineering talent would be the last thing troubling Massachusetts' CEOs. You'd be wrong.

Several prominent execs say without a concerted effort by business, political and educational leaders, the Bay State won't have enough engineers to fill jobs when the economy rebounds.

The words of caution come in response to a new study from the Engineering in Massachusetts Collaborative (EiMC), a statewide public-private partnership led by Krishna Vedula, Dean of the College of Engineering, UMass Lowell.

EiMC's research and policy paper, "Fueling the Pipeline: Attracting and Educating Math and Science Students," will be discussed tomorrow at a forum at EMC's Hopkinton, Mass., headquarters. The data storage giant is an EiMC sponsor and one of the state's 20 largest employers.

"We in industry and state government and higher education are committing to an agenda that will improve math and science education and ensure that all of us are held accountable for delivering measurable results," said Mike Ruettgers, EMC's executive chairman.

Greg Eden, an EMC spokesman, said about 3,000 of the company's 17,000 worldwide employees are engineers. Of those, about 3 in 4 work on software.

"We have reduced our total workforce during the past two years," Eden said. "At the same time we have bulked up in the the growing areas of our businesss, specifically storage management software and storage-related professional services."

Still, the company has had to rely on foreign workers through the H1B visa program to fill the gaps, Eden said.

One of EiMC's worrisome findings is that the number students earning scientific, engineering and IT udergraduate degrees at New England schools declined in the 1990s.

So what should be done to reverse the trend? The group, which will meet with Gov. Mitt Romney tomorrow, is encouraging companies to work with local schools and higher education to provide K-12 math and science teachers with professional development opportunities. EMC today also announced a training program for elementary school math and science teachers.

In addition, the group will advocate for: promoting statewide awareness of local best practices and take steps to expand the pool of qualified math teachers; and fully fund federal support for state-led efforts to improve math and science education.


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