The United States, analysts have argued in recent years, faces an IT manpower shortage whose consequences are being felt from Silicon Valley to the Department of Defense. Solving the problem won't be easy. But in the world of the cloud and Big Data, at least, the picture is beginning to look a little brighter as industry and educational institutions partner to inspire the next generation of innovators. Is the channel prepared for a new influx of talent?

A scarcity of skilled IT professionals isn't the kind of challenge anyone can solve overnight. But in key examples of the sort of investment that will help ensure emerging niches of the cloud and data ecosystems have the talent to power continued growth, DataStax and Rackspace (NYSE: RAX) each recently announced new programs to promote education in these fields.

First, DataStax has begun accepting applications for its "Next Great Data Developer" contest. Through the program, the company will award two undergraduate or graduate students in computer science (of whom at least one, by the way, must be a woman--cheers for affirmation of equal opportunity) scholarships of $10,000 for developing innovative applications on Apache Cassandra, the NoSQL implementation around which DataStax's value-added products are centered.

Meanwhile, on a larger scale, Rackspace is working with the Alamo Colleges community-college system in Texas to provide 1,000 workers with expertise in OpenStack-based cloud computing. Funding for this initiative, which is aimed at both current IT employees and new workers, comes in the form of a $2.5 million Skills Development Fund Grant from the Texas Workforce Commission. Last Friday, representatives of each of the three organizations involved officially announced the project, which according to a Rackspace statement will produce workers earning an average hourly wage of $25.38.

By the way, this isn't the first investment Rackspace has helped to make in higher education. Last month, the company announced the beginning of an OpenStack training program at MIT which highlighted its broader promise of providing cloud-deployment training at American universities and other organizations. It clearly views academia as a vital incubator of commercial growth in the cloud channel.

Pessimists might note that the tech industry has been throwing money at college students for years--Google's Summer of Code project, begun in 2005, comes to mind as a major example--but apparently has yet to assure itself the talent it deems necessary for continued growth. In that sense, it's unclear whether the initiatives described above will ensure the innovation in Big Data and cloud computing that DataStax and Rackspace envision.

Nonetheless, the projects are a clear sign that major organizations in this niche recognize opportunities for expansion, and believe they can achieve them by investing in the next generation of IT professionals. In other words, the Big Data and cloud industries are not standing by idly, waiting for the manpower crisis to solve itself, or for educational institutions to address the issue on their own. The rest of the channel might do well to take note.