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Offshoring Forces Tech-Job Seekers To Shift Strategy

Those who train and place workers urge them to diversify their skills.

Recruiters at HireStrategy, a Reston staffing firm, have learned to assuage the fears of techies who feel threatened by offshore outsourcing. The trend is less dire than many of them fear, said Paul Villella, chief executive. But the firm also tells out-of-work techies that they may have to make some uncomfortable adjustments to gain an edge in the job market.

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"You've got to move them beyond pure, narrow programming. Those skills are still the key thing to get the door open . . . but the big differentiator is the ability to translate that skill into something higher, being able to communicate it," Villella said. That may seem obvious, but it can be jarring to techies accustomed to a quiet life of coding in a cubicle.

Stratford University in Falls Church has combined many elements of its information technology program into a minor for its business administration program. "The day of the pure technologist is over," said Richard R. Shurtz II, Stratford's president. "Now what you need are people who know how to use technology to maintain a competitive advantage."

Lloyd J. Griffiths, dean of George Mason University's School of Information Technology and Engineering, said he's concerned that there could soon be a shortage of trained technical professionals in the United States. In the fall of 2002, the school's computer science program had 773 students. This year, there are 557 undergraduates in the program.

"That decline -- I don't see any steepening in it as a result of outsourcing. There is something else going on that I don't really understand yet," Griffiths said. An information technology program GMU created in 2002 to prepare students to become project managers and analysts has been popular, but it doesn't teach students the nuts-and-bolts coding that makes technology work.

Computer specialist and software engineering jobs are still expected to be among the fastest-growing occupations through 2012, according to the Labor Department. Griffiths said company executives often ask how they can hire more of his students.

"The demand is really increasing and the supply side is the side that's just not there, and I don't know what we're going to do about it, frankly," he said. "What are we going to do about it?"

Ellen McCarthy writes about the local tech scene every other Thursday. Her e-mail address is mccarthye@washpost.com.

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