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Schools become high-tech resource

Howard Foley bends over a table-size chart of numbers, each showing how many newm skilled workers will be needed in Massachusetts by 1983 to keep the fastest-growing "high technology" firms in high gear:

Electrical engineers: 3,971.m

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Computer scientists: 5,077.m

Technicians: 4,710.m

These numbers translate into an industry growth rate of at least 20 percent a year -- more than any time in recent years, points out the head of a new group of high-technology firms in the state.

The only recourse, says Mr. Foley, is a crash training and education program to save Massachusetts from an acute shortage in skilled labor -- and loss of a healthy economic climate.

Ironically, the Bay State's main attraction to manufacturers is a skilled worker force. And the higher education "industry" here claims the highest density of classrooms almost anywhere.

Thus, Mr. Foley, as president of the Massachusetts High Technology Council (MHTC), which represents over 110 computer and electronic industries mainly around Boston, is helping forge a new coalition of state leaders, high-tech businesses, and colleges and universities to solve the "people power" problem.

"The name of the game in Massachusetts is cooperation between the high-tech industries and education," says Dr. Karl Weiss, vice-provost of Northeastern University, the largest "factory" supplying new engineering graduates to Bay State firms.

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A dramatic increase in the output of skilled workers in high-tech fields over the past two years in the state demonstrates that a more united effort by industry, schools, and government produces results.

In the case of electrical engineering and computer science graduates -- the most critical areas for trained professionals -- a state Board of Higher Education survey found a 40 percent increase between 1979 and 1981.

But computer companies still need more.

"Software people are the bottleneck," warns Mr. Foley. One senior engineer helps keep 25 people in jobs below him (or her), notes a high-tech marketing report.

The gap between supply and demand for these technical engineers is widening, according to the MHTC, a trend that worries both high-tech and Bay State officials. Industry and government fear a lock of these professionals will mean that computer companies will expand out-of-state and new firms will locate where they can find a skilled labor pool.

"A lot of our manpower problems can be solved with more money," says Ray Stata, president of Analog Devices Inc. High-tech firms have become more responsive to financial needs to Bay State schools, he adds.

Analog presented both Northeastern University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) with $100,000 each last year to provide permanent career development faculty. Computervision Corporation recently gave Worcester Polytechnical Institute computer equipment worth $350,000 to be used for training programmers.

To help educate its computer science majors, MIT is soliciting funds to finance a $15 million semiconductor "factory" to be installed at its Cambridge campus.

Computed-aided design and manufacturing of "chips" by students will speed the research and production of large- scale integrated circuits, says Dr. Gerald Wilson, head of the MIT electrical engineering and computer science departments.

Intense industrial and state pressure for schools to produce more engineers leaves school administrators a bit wary though.

"We are keenly aware of the cyclical nature of engineering needs," cautions Dr. Weiss, remembering the glut of engineers in the early 1970s when federal funds and the space program were cut back.

Rapid expansion of technical programs cannot continue without a sacrifice in quality, says MIT president Paul E. Gray. The classrooms and faculty at several Bay State schools have been stretched to their limits, say college officials.

The reluctance of schools to respond quickly to the needs of industry has led Dr. An Wang, president of Wang Laboratories, to start an independent industry-financed school -- Wang Institute of Graduate Studies.

Located in converted school near Lowell, Mass., the 200- acre facility will give advanced graduate education for software project leaders.High-tech companies have donated funds and equipment to the school that could be enrolling up to 150 professionals within two years. Its first class started in January 1981, with 20 students.

The University of Massachusetts at Amherst now provides video-taped correspondence courses in graduate studies to several high-tech firms. Over 90 engineers now take the courses after working hours at their plants.

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