1.2 A Workforce Rationale

In today's workplace, information technology is increasingly common. If the nation is to obtain the maximum benefit from its investments in information technology, a labor pool capable of using it appropriately is necessary. It is obvious that individuals who work with information and knowledge (so-called "knowledge workers") need to understand the ubiquitous office information technologies, but it is also true that few job classifications require no knowledge of information technology at all. For example, the clerk in a retail establishment at one time had only to know how to use a cash register. Today, the same clerk can come into contact with inventory systems, order tracking, and credit card and other business systems, which are becoming more sophisticated and integrated. In the manufacturing industry, many traditionally "blue-collar" workers must cope with a variety of manufacturing systems for tracking materials, parts inventory and production, process control, and online manuals and procedures.

Though a company must train its employees in the use of its business systems, it is naïve to consider such training as a one-time activity. The systems are upgraded frequently and become more complex. Opportunities to apply information technology to business problems and opportunities to integrate existing information technology solutions continue, implying a continual training mission. Obviously, this training task is greatly simplified if the labor pool is already well educated in information technology, since employees come up to speed faster and require less training overall. Further, they will probably utilize existing systems more fully and adapt to upgrades better. Employee productivity is directly affected by the employees' knowledge of information technology.

From the employee's point of view expertise in information technology is valuable. It not only leads to the simple satisfaction of performing one's job well and nimbly responding to problems; it can also improve job mobility. More facility with a company's information technology infrastructure can be a valuable job asset that may be considered in promotions. Finding a job at another company will entail learning new information systems, but understanding them more abstractly—knowing which features should be common and how they might differ—is also an asset in a labor market where employees no longer enjoy a "job for life."

1.3 An Educational Rationale

Information technology is an enabler for many new types of educational opportunities. One type is based on the access of students to an array of educational resources that were not previously accessible to them.

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