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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Promising Futures: Workforce Development and Upward Mobility in Information Technology


This study examines the potential for individuals trapped in dead-end jobs in the service economy to cross the Digital Divide into jobs in the knowledge economy. The conventional wisdom is that the lack of human capital entraps workers in dead-end jobs, unable to capitalize on the demand for high-skilled labor in an increasingly networked -- and exclusive -- society. Other approaches focus on the demand side, suggesting that information technology (IT) itself acts to exacerbate societal divisions and ultimately income inequality, particularly in high-tech regions. IT not only drives the bifurcation of the economy into high-end knowledge analyst and low-skill service jobs, but also creates a new networked system of economic organization that has few access points for those who are "switched off." The implication is that as globalization accelerates and IT jobs shift offshore, these patterns of bifurcation, inequality, and job inaccessibility will only grow worse.

The author argues instead that a low-wage future is not inevitable for disadvantaged groups. The downskilling of IT work, along with the rise of workforce intermediaries, creates an opportunity to move large numbers of low-wage workers into jobs with a career ladder, particularly at the peak of the business cycle. Although some entry-level work is disappearing offshore, the economy still offers opportunities for jobseekers with little college education to work in IT. Nonprofit training programs in the "second-chance" employment and training system play an important role in making the transition possible for those whom the educational system has failed. The majority of training program graduates remain in IT four years later, with a clear career trajectory ahead.

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