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 Calif. students need more tech training

California's students are woefully unprepared for jobs in the high-tech field, according to a state body charged with improving the lives of residents through science and technology.

The California Council on Science and Technology issued a report Wednesday calling on schools from kindergarten to the graduate level to encourage more students to pursue math and science courses.

"A major finding of (the report) was that the California labor market for science and engineering workers is increasingly tight and that California's educational system is not producing the science and engineering graduates needed to meet industry's growing requirement for skilled workers," the council wrote in its study.

The study cites several reasons for the lapse, including low teacher salaries, noncredentialed teachers, and per pupil spending that's lagged the national average for more than a decade. What's more, the study says the future doesn't look much brighter. According to the report, more than 30 percent of students don't graduate from high school, a percentage that's expected to climb.

As a skilled work force has become increasingly important to the tech industry, Silicon Valley executives have jumped into the education debate in an attempt to reach future employees. Silicon Valley lobbying group TechNet made education one of its top priorities. Netscape Communications founder Jim Barksdale has sponsored reading programs. And the council that released Wednesday's study includes George Scalise, president of the Semiconductor Industry Association and a former Apple Computer executive.

Wednesday's study cites several organizations and academic entities that could help solve the tech-worker shortage. They include the state's community college system, which provides inexpensive technical courses and helps some students seeking higher education to enter universities.

But because its goal is to identify problems and suggest ways to fix them, the council holds a particularly dire view of California's education system. The study says four-year universities should better prepare themselves to handle an increase in science and engineering degrees. It faults the California State University system for its pay scale, saying science and engineering faculty should receive higher salaries than other professors.

The study notes that graduate degrees in tech fields are in high demand, as demonstrated by the large population of employees with H-1B visas, the temporary work permits given to skilled foreign workers. However, the study says that nonresident aliens earn more than 30 percent of the doctorates and 35 percent of the master's degrees in science and technology fields.

At the K-12 level, the report recommends more support for science teachers in low-income areas and grants for science and technology education.


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