A Sept. 6 editorial questioning recommendations of Virginia Gov. James Gilmore's Commission on Information Technology noted that the commonwealth's burgeoning technology companies should not be given incentives to solve their own work-force problems.

But the commission is recommending only that government serve as a catalyst to jump-start market forces as a way to address technology and labor issues. The work-force shortage is a problem that industry will have to solve itself. However, a stalled technology sector would have negative long-term implications for all Virginians.

The commission's research on work-force problems led to its list of specific recommendations to improve the short-term efficiency of the market economy.

First, while internships and other forms of experiential learning are popular, most technology education and training programs, including at the high school level, have not made these internships an integral part of their requirements. This is a critical success factor.

Second, companies incur a cost when they develop internship programs that are driven not only by their own needs but also by the need to fit into broader educational objectives. Here government should contribute to the overall costs.

Third, the commission found that the number of students who have adequate technical preparation in their education would increase if early, hands-on exposure to the technical field were provided.

As a consequence, the commission has recommended, and the governor embraced, the "interim incentives" that The Post believes might "spur firms to reach out, hire and train more people."

The commission envisions a three-year program that combines tax incentives to companies with tuition assistance to students. Our goal is to build programs that will accelerate the actions of market forces -- not replace them.




The writers are, respectively, Virginia's secretary of technology and vice chairman of the Governor's Commission on Information Technology.

A Sept. 6 editorial pointed out the dramatic shortage of skilled workers in the metro area, especially in the high-technology sector. Virginia and my state of Maryland have chosen starkly different approaches to this problem.

Perhaps the greatest difference has been in the area of tuition assistance. Two years ago Maryland enacted a high-technology scholarship program to give high school students with at least a B average up to $3,000 annually to help pay tuition costs for course work relating to the needs of the high-tech industry sector. In return, students work for a Maryland firm for as many years as they received tuition. The response has been overwhelming. The long-term results will increase our well-educated work force, ensuring our competitiveness in the 21st century.

The Post asked why government should become involved in work-force training, but why should a corporation pay thousands of dollars in tuition costs only to see the newly trained employees leave to work for a competitor? Some companies try to compel employees to stay on after receiving tuition reimbursement, but this leads to unhappy workers.

Maryland's decision is to share the costs of training between government and industry and create an obligation on the part of students to work in our state. Businesses get highly trained employees while mitigating the financial risk. Young people get an incentive to study and an opportunity to reduce their college costs. And Maryland gets a well-trained, highly paid work force and an expanding tax base.



The writer, a Democrat, represents Gaithersburg in the Maryland House of Delegates and chairs the subcommittee on science and technology.