Federal agencies and technology companies are worsening a widely reported shortage of tech workers through overly cautious policies against hiring two-year college graduates and people with little experience, a high-level Virginia state commission says.

Community-college graduates with technical specialties could fill many of the vacant jobs, the commission said, citing a survey of online want ads, but many employers apparently aren't interested in hiring them.

Gov. James S. Gilmore III (R), who appointed the panel, plans to endorse one of its key recommendations: a new program of state tax credits to companies that offer internships to technology students and new graduates as a means of getting them in the door, sources close to the commission said.

Gilmore is scheduled to speak to a meeting of the 38-member commission of business executives, educators and legislators at George Mason University today. His staff declined yesterday to comment on his response to the commission report.

The commission, headed by Virginia Technology Secretary Donald W. Upson, said at least 30,000 tech job openings are currently unfilled in the state, the majority in Northern Virginia.

A survey of Internet hiring sites covering the Washington region found that the "hottest" occupations are clustered around software programming and development, telecommunications network administrators and Web site specialists. Of 1,821 job openings pinpointed in the survey, two-thirds were in these specialities.

The demand was much lower for technology managers, marketers and project administrators and for engineers and semiconductor technicians.

Of the surveyed positions, just one specifically identified a two-year technology degree as the right educational background for the job, the commission report said. About half the positions did not include an educational requirement, but commission members contend that a two-year degree is often considered worthless.

Much of the problem rests with the federal government, whose agencies routinely--and often needlessly--insist that technology contractors only use four-year college graduates on projects, the commission said.

These strict requirements are a case of "credentials creep," the commission said.

Technology companies compound their own hiring problems by these rigid requirements, the commission said. Many companies demand that new recruits have several years' experience at least, said commission member Michael A. Daniels, chairman of Network Solutions Inc., the Herndon firm that registers Internet domain names.

"That's the biggest single issue that plagues us," Daniels said. Rather than taking a chance on new graduates, companies say, " 'Yes, we'd love to hire people. . . . But of course we want them to have two to three years' experience.' Industry has to do something about that."

The experience requirements are undermining efforts to increase the pool of tech workers, just as interest in tech careers is growing among young people, the commission said.

Rather than being turned off by a "Dilbert" image linked to tech work, U.S. teenagers ranked computer jobs alongside medical occupations near the top of their career choices in a 1998 survey, the commission said.

"The fact remains that the bulk of education and training efforts are directed at potential new entrants" to the information technology field, the report said.

But only one-fifth to one-quarter of the job openings in the survey of Web sites were open to inexperienced workers.

Many tech companies also turn their backs on several thousand technology-skilled members of the military in Virginia who retire or leave the service every year, the commission said. "Several companies have developed effective strategies for hiring from this vast pool of talent but most have not," the commission said.

The commission calls for a new program of tax incentives for businesses that offer internships to tech students or new graduates as a way to break the ice with potential employers. The recommendation doesn't spell out how large the incentives should be.

Looking for High Tech

The percentage of jobs, by category, that were open at six Web sites widely used to post information technology jobs.*

Software programmers, developers 29%

Database administrators, developers, programmers 15%

Web developers and graphics specialists 14%

Network administrators and engineers 13%

*primarily in Northern Virginia

NOTE: Thirty-two days of postings in three intervals were chosen to review; 1,821 jobs were identified.

SOURCE: Governor's Commission on Information Technology