Some of the nation’s top high-tech executives told Congress June 6 that improving research and education are the keys for driving new technology in the decades to come.

Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates told the Joint Economic Committee that putting more technology into students’ hands will give them access to learning 24 hours a day and will allow teachers to customize learning for their students and improve schools. “The lifeblood of our industry is not capital equipment, but human capital,” said Gates, who noted that just 20 percent of teachers feel confident using technology in the classroom. “That says we have a long ways to go,” he said.

Intel Corp. Chairman Andy Grove said that high-tech degrees in universities declined between 1988 and 1998, and that degrees in electrical engineering declined from 25,000 in 1988 to just 14,000 in 1998.

From 1990 to 1999, Grove said, federal funding for high-tech research declined from $75 billion to $62 billion, at a time when the high-tech industry grew 10 percent to 30 percent per year.

The Joint Economic Committee also heard from John Warnock, Adobe Systems chief executive officer, Classroom Connect CEO Judith Hamilton, and other executives in its third in a series of hearings on the industry’s effect on the U.S. economy. Hundreds of thousands of information technology jobs remain unfilled in the United States because of a shortage of IT workers, according to industry estimates. Company executives told the committee that lawmakers should focus on education as a long-term solution to the problem.

Hamilton also urged lawmakers to consider financing a comprehensive teacher-training program to build on the success of the eRate.

“The federal government has traditionally demonstrated its leadership by providing a vision, serving as a catalyst for new initiatives in the nation,” she said. “Now is the time to invest in a major effort to take us from the first plateau where we are now to the next level, where technology will be pervasive, accessible, and used effectively.”