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US Program Increases Technology Opportunities for Women

Despite the slowing U.S. economy, information technology jobs continue to grow faster than the supply of skilled workers available to fill them. A new national training program hopes to increase women's employment opportunities in the sector.

The program is sponsored by Women Work, a nonprofit group that offers vocational training to women in need, and also by employers in several U.S. industries.

The idea, spokesman Joyce Miller says, is to take women in transition - divorced or widowed home makers, welfare recipients - and train them for technology jobs with good pay and growth potential. "The perception is that to work in technology you would have to have an advanced degree in computer science, when, in fact there are many jobs in the industry that they could be trained for in two years, and those are really the jobs we focus on," she explains.

Because the employers are directly involved, Joyce Miller says, the workers are being groomed for jobs they know are vacant. Some are learning how to design web sites. Others are learning how to use a computer to manage retail inventory, or how to set up a computer network. "Technology jobs are located all across industries," she says. "We are not looking just at 'dot-com' jobs. There are technology jobs in every sector, whether it's finance or education, the health industry, the retail industry."

The program has special appeal for women like April Harris, a 28-year-old single mother with two young sons and only a secondary school degree. "I worked in different jobs in different professions and found that I could not advance," she says, "and that led me back to school, to become better skilled, better educated, to advance to a career, rather than just a job."

In addition to the fiber optics training she is receiving in the program, April Harris is also taking college courses. She believes all this activity is sending a powerful message to her young sons. "When I tell them I want them to go to college and I want them to excel, I want them to be able to look back on me and see the things that I went through to be their role model. They can see that it can be done," she says.

She is just starting fiber optics training, but April Harris says the program has already yielded two intangible benefits - hope and greater self-esteem.