Techschools/27″/cw1st/mark2nd By JENNIFER NETHERBY Staff Reporter The demand for workers at high-tech firms along the 101 corridor and throughout Los Angeles is creating a business boom elsewhere in San Fernando Valley classrooms. Colleges and technical schools across the Valley and into Ventura County are scrambling to provide new or improved course offerings to meet the demand for techies. Chicago-based DeVry Institute of Technology recently broke ground on a 20-acre campus in West Hills its third in Southern California. The college, scheduled to open in fall, will have 2,700 students and 100 faculty. ITT Technical Institute’s Sylmar campus will add a new computer network systems engineering program this March, while Cal State Northridge is overhauling its computer engineering program to keep up with changing industry demands. “We’re seeing huge increases in fields related to computers,” said Sharlene Katz, CSUN associate dean at the college of engineering and computer science. “Our experience is that our students are in very high demand. We can’t supply enough students to employers.” Growth in high-tech employment is expected to slow somewhat this year. The number of high-tech jobs in L.A. County is expected to decline from 38,800 in 1998 to 38,200 this year, according to the Los Angeles Economic Development Corp. The California Employment Development Department, meanwhile, says that high-tech jobs, especially computer engineers, systems analysts and computer programmers, are the third fastest-growing job sector in Southern California “The common complaint in technology is, ‘I can’t find enough workers,’ ” said Jack Kyser, chief economist with the Economic Development Corp. of L.A. County. “Demand is not being met and, from what we hear, it won’t be met anytime soon.” That’s why schools like DeVry and others are moving in or expanding their Valley programs to cater to high tech. DeVry will spend $12 million to turn the former West Hills Hughes Aircraft Co. site on Roscoe Boulevard and Fallbrook Avenue into a full-scale campus with a two-story, 110,000-square-foot building housing 30 classrooms, computer and electronics labs, and a library. “This was a long-term goal,” said DeVry Southern California President Rose Marie Dishman. “It’s a dynamic, growing area.” Ken Bauer, vice president of human resources at Xircom Inc., said the company has officials on college curriculum committees and works closely with students from area junior colleges. Bauer said schools are finally getting the message in terms of what businesses need. “They’re really jumping on the bandwagon,” he said. Bauer said the company has 50 open positions, each of which typically takes two to four months to fill. “It’s a huge problem,” he said. “There’s just not enough fully qualified computer scientists coming out of the schools. There’s a lot of people applying for jobs, but not with the relevant experience.” Cliff Numark, program director with the Los Angeles Regional Technology Alliance, said the biggest complaint he hears from high-tech employers is the lack of quality workers. “The number one problem affecting high-tech businesses in the L.A. area is the need for experienced management teams and a need for quality workers,” he said. LARTA is a non-profit organization representing high-tech businesses in L.A., Orange, Ventura, Riverside and San Bernardino counties. Tech companies aren’t the only ones looking for workers. Gary Groth, director of development at CSUN’s college of engineering and computer science, said more traditional companies such as Anheuser-Busch Inc. are looking for hard-to-find tech workers. At a technology job fair later this month, more than 100 employers are expected to mine the school’s student body. As long as the jobs are there, schools say they will have little trouble finding students. Valley market surveys done by DeVry show a strong interest in education. School representatives visit area high school students and report more interest in a Valley campus than DeVry’s other two Southern California locations. Katz at CSUN said because different types of students go to DeVry versus CSUN and other types of schools, DeVry won’t pose serious competition to the university. Lisa Montgomery, a spokeswoman for ITT, said her company is not worried about the competition from the new DeVry campus either. “Really with the demand employers say there is for technologically skilled workers, there’s room for ITT, DeVry and others,” she said. Dishman said she plans to reach out to other schools in the area, especially the community colleges, to form working partnerships. “We’re not expecting to have a threatening relationship with any of the other schools.” A degree at a private technical school doesn’t come cheap. DeVry costs students on average $4,000 a semester, and students graduate in five to nine semesters depending on the type of degree they get. ITT’s average tuition is $17,000 for an associate’s degree. To obtain an associate’s degree in computer systems networking, it costs $23,000. That compares with $946 a semester at California State University system and as little as $144 a semester at a community college.