Mixed bag for job prospects

Information Technology Association of America

The outlook for hiring in information technology jobs is beginning to surge back from last year's downturn, but that doesn't mean that agencies will be able to find workers who have the skills they need, according to a new study.

Although the IT workforce has shrunk 5 percent nationwide, from 10.4 million last year to 9.9 million this year, there's still a major gap between demand and supply, with hiring managers predicting that they will be unable to fill almost 600,000 jobs this year, according to the Information Technology Association of America's annual IT workforce study, released May 7.

The study surveyed 532 managers at IT and non-IT companies. ITAA has conducted the study annually since 1997.

"This is obviously a good news/bad news report for IT workers," said ITAA President Harris Miller. Hiring managers are optimistic about the number of jobs they will seek to fill in the next year — 1.1 million, compared to a little more than 900,000 in 2001 — but those same managers put a high priority on experience, which many entry-level workers don't have.

That means that the long-term trend toward outsourcing IT jobs in the federal government as well as the private sector will continue, Miller added during a press conference at the ITAA National IT Workforce Convocation in Arlington, Va.

With almost 50 percent of the federal IT workforce eligible for retirement in five years, finding and retaining skilled IT professionals will become more difficult than ever for agencies, which must contend with federal salary caps that don't match industry pay scales, Miller said.

In addition, rapid changes in technology may render mainframe-oriented skills obsolete, while the post-Sept. 11 emphasis on systems security and disaster recovery capabilities "ramp up the need for appropriately skilled information security personnel," according to the study.

Given those pressures, "there's no way at the end of the day that government — state and local as well as federal — will be able to maintain huge internal IT departments," Miller said.

This year, the ITAA study included the ITAA/Dice Tech Skills Profile, a section compiled from data in approximately 30,000 job listings on the IT jobs Web site maintained by Dice Inc., an online recruiting firm.

Despite an almost 60 percent drop in demand for IT professionals last year, "there is still a high demand for 'hard-core' IT skills," including C++ programming, Java and Microsoft Corp. SQL Server and Windows NT, said Scot Melland, Dice's president and chief executive officer.

Both Miller and Melland cautioned, however, that the "bounce-back" in demand for IT workers could evaporate if business confidence in the coming months doesn't follow the current slow rise in consumer confidence.

"One thing that makes IT different is that it is very project-oriented — and we've been finding that projects that the CEOs have OK'd have been sitting around on [chief financial officers'] desks," Melland said.

In addition, the educational system — with the exception of community colleges and for-profit IT training schools — has failed to address the shortage of appropriately skilled workers, said Ernst Volgenau, president and CEO of SRA International Inc., a systems integrator with numerous government clients. "There are just not enough people in the workforce who have taken math, science and engineering," he said.

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Where are the jobs?

Demand for information technology professionals is rising in all but one discipline in 2002. Yet the number of new employees hired this year will be nowhere near the levels of two years ago, according to a study by the Information Technology Association of America.

As in the past, technical support professionals lead the pack of workers that hiring managers plan to seek this year, but demand in that category is down 54 percent from the levels reached in 2000, a banner year for IT hires.

The two biggest jumps in demand this year are in technical writing, where hiring managers predict a 291 percent increase over 2001 numbers, and digital media, where demand is up 226 percent. Demand is down in database development and administration.

Here are the positions managers plan to fill in 2002:

Technical support 281,406

Network design/administration 199,348

Programming/software engineering 161,487

Web development/administration 156,372

Database development/administration 100,766

Enterprise systems 79,825

Technical writing 68,247

Other 62,285

Digital media 38,902

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