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Until recently, hardly a month went by without grumbling from the high-tech sector about the difficulty of hiring skilled IT workers.

But as the economy slows to a crawl, the grumbling has subsided somewhat. That’s presumably because as some companies lay off workers, others are having an easier time filling vacancies.

Unlike the turn-of-the-millennium recession that followed the dot-com bust, the IT industry has fared relatively well so far during the current downturn. While unemployment in June shot up to 8.2 percent in construction from 5.9 percent a year ago, in the services sector – including IT – the jobless rate grew to 6.5 percent from 5.9, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.

It’s not like the IT industry is unscathed by the current economic woes, but it could be worse.

If the industry manages to hold steady and the economy turns around in coming months – one can only hope – we can expect to see a return to the grumbling over the lack of IT skills in the work force. Especially since five of the 30 occupations expected to grow fastest by 2016 are in the IT sector, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

By calling it “grumbling,” I don’t need to make light of the problem. While plenty of people will dispute the problem is as acute as often portrayed, and some of them compellingly, the reality is that channel companies often have trouble finding the talent they need. The same goes for IT companies in general.

The frustrating aspect to all this is the industry, aside from complaining, has shown little initiative in trying to curb the problem. And as the economy stumbles, the will to do anything shrinks.

Thankfully, CompTIA (Computer Technology Industry Association), which often has acknowledged the skills-shortage problem, is doing something.

The association has worked with Chicago Public Schools to train and certify dozens of high school students in basic IT skills. Chicago’s school system runs a program called “Education to Careers,” whose goal is to prepare high school students following graduation for entry-level jobs or for post-secondary study in various fields, including agriculture and horticulture, construction and architecture, automotive and information technology.

The Education to Careers IT track includes instruction on CompTIA certifications, which have become recognized as the industry standard for a broad range of IT skills.

Five hundred students from six high schools enrolled in the program, according to CompTIA, and in May they had the opportunity to prove their skills by taking exams administered by Pearson VUE, a company that handles electronic testing for regulatory and certification boards.

The certifications that students prepared for included CompTIA A+ and Network+. The A+ certification validates technicians’ ability to perform installation, configuration, diagnosing, preventive maintenance and basic networking. Network+ validates the ability to install, configure and troubleshoot basic networking hardware, protocols and services.

Students who passed the certification exams have an advantage over the competition when seeking internships or full-time, entry-level positions. And those who pursue further studies can take their certifications with them and built on what they have already learned.

The Chicago schools’ program is significant because it goes to the core of any potential solution to the IT skills problem – education. CompTIA deserves kudos for taking part in the program.

Now if only the rest of the industry made more of an effort to invest in education, perhaps the grumbling would stop.

Pedro Pereira is editor of eWEEK Strategic Partner and a contributing editor for The Channel Insider. He is at