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Study: IT worker unemployment at 'unprecedented' levels

About 150,000 IT positions were lost in 2001 and 2002

September 17, 2003 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - DALLAS -- Unemployment for IT workers reached 6% this year, an "unprecedented" level for a profession that was once a sure path to a well-paying job, according to a new study that also found that foreign-born workers now account for a fifth of all IT employees in the U.S. The report also found that the percentage of laid-off foreign-born IT workers is slightly higher than for U.S.-born workers.
The study, which was presented at a congressional forum today by the Washington-based nonprofit group Commission on Professionals in Science and Technology (CPST), affirms what IT managers have seen in response to help-wanted ads. "I'm sure the number is 6% or higher," said Michael Russo, a data center manager at Wyeth, a Madison, N.J.-based pharmaceuticals giant.
A recent third-shift job in the company's operational data center drew 168 applicants. "There are a lot of people who are out of work," Russo said.
Randy Rosenthal, manager of computer operations at Southwest Securities Group Inc. in Dallas, has seen the same trend: highly qualified people with multiple degrees applying for jobs IT managers once had trouble filling. "That tells me that 6% has hit the IT area pretty hard," he said.
About 150,000 IT positions were lost in 2001 and 2002, about two-thirds of them in programming, the report said.
Two years ago, Phoenix-based water and electric utility Salt River Project had an open position for an operations analyst and received about 15 applications; last year, it posted a similar position and had 50 applicants. This year the 800,000-customer utility has a hiring freeze, said operations manager Dewayne Nelsen.
There was a sense of grim resignation about the latest report among some IT managers at a conference held here by AFCOM, an Orange, Calif.-based data center managers user group.
Several IT managers, some requesting that their names not be used, told of data center consolidations that led to layoffs or offshore plans. For the future, automation improvements and the development of "self-healing" applications will also hurt some IT career paths. The career advice from one IT manager was to avoid the technical aspects of the profession and focus more on IT management training.
IT unemployment rates were as low as 1.2% in 1997, shooting up to 4.3% in 2002.
But the overall number of IT jobs has seen remarkable growth, tripling in the past 20 years, according to the CPST, which conducts labor force and educational research for a range of scientific organizations and companies. The IT labor force grew from 719,000 jobs in 1983 to 2.5 million at its peak in 2000.
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