Are employers pulling back on IT hiring?

Analysts have different views of May's dismal U.S. jobs data from an IT perspective

Analysts who track IT employment are offering starkly different views of IT hiring that range from still healthy to troubling.

The Labor Department announced that the U.S. overall added only 69,000 net new jobs in May, triggering a sharp stock market decline on Friday.

But there's no consensus on how IT employment fared last month because of the different ways analysts examine government labor data.

An optimistic view of IT employment in May was offered by the TechServe Alliance, an industry group that tracks IT employment month to month. The group said IT employment increased by 15,500 jobs during the month, putting IT employment nationally at 4.179 million jobs, a new high and 2.71% more than a year earlier.

In April, the group reported 17,000 new IT jobs.

"IT [employment] remains robust, without question," said Mark Roberts, CEO of the TechServe Alliance. "Corporations are still investing in technology, and when you invest you need to have people to develop and maintain it."

Like other organizations that analyze the labor market, the TechServe Alliance uses U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) data, but it also examines IT employment in more than 20 non-IT industries, such as trucking, so the IT employment numbers it reports are typically higher than those reported by others.

Other analysts look at IT-industry-specific categories.

David Foote, the CEO of Foote Partners, a consultancy specializing in IT employment, estimates that the BLS IT labor categories represent only about one-fifth of all of the people who work in IT.

Foote Partners counted a net gain of 5,200 jobs across four IT job segments in May. By the firm's count, it was the third weak month in a row.

The jobs data "is not going in the right direction," said Foote. "People are getting nervous, and at this point the trend is not to hire."

By Foote's analysis, in the BLS categories it tracks, IT employment has increased by 45,000 jobs over the last seven months, and hiring activity is now flattening out.

But Foote believes that government statistics overlook new and emerging IT skill sets, particularly those that combine business and tech expertise.

IT consultancy Janco Associates estimates that the net number of new IT jobs in May was only 200 -- a significant drop from an increase of 6,600 jobs in April.

The difference in Janco's estimate is explained, in part, by the decision not to include the BLS category of management and technical consulting services, which saw an increase. Janco says the percentage of IT pros in that group may be low.

In a Janco survey of just over 100 IT executives in May, most of the respondents reported that they plan to keep overall headcounts level and said that they "do not see any increase in permanent staffing within the next few months," said Janco CEO Victor Janulaitis.

Something that may impact the IT jobs number in the months ahead is Hewlett-Packard's recent announcement that it plans to cut 9,000 employees by the close of its fiscal year, on Oct. 31, and a total of 27,000 over the next two years.

Patrick Thibodeau covers SaaS and enterprise applications, outsourcing, government IT policies, data centers and IT workforce issues for Computerworld. Follow Patrick on Twitter at @DCgov, or subscribe to Patrick's RSS feed . His e-mail address is pthibodeau@computerworld.com.

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