IT Job Market Dips; No Upswing in Sight

Technical support and customer service positions both suffered heavy job losses

Arlington, Va.

The good news is that U.S. companies hired 2.1 million IT workers last year.

The bad news is that they fired 2.6 million, reducing the overall IT workforce by about 5%, from 10.4 million to 9.9 million workers, according to a national IT workforce study released here last week by the Information Technology Association of America (ITAA).

At the top of companies' 2001 layoff lists were technical support workers, whose ranks were reduced by more than 911,000 positions. Other losing job categories included software programmers/engineers and database developers, which lost 487,000 and 445,000 jobs, respectively.

The groups that lost the fewest jobs were digital media specialists, technical writers and enterprise systems support workers.

Results of the ITAA study were based on interviews conducted in February and March with 532 hiring managers at companies with more than 50 employees.

According to ITAA President Harris Miller, hiring managers rated specific industry and technical experience as the top factors they considered when interviewing IT job candidates. Less important were technical certifications and general work experience.

This doesn't bode well for the millions of graduates from colleges and technical study and certification programs who are entering the job market. Adding to their struggle is the ITAA's finding that companies are targeting traditional entry-level IT departments like the help desk and customer service for reductions.

"Entry-level positions have been reduced significantly" since early 2001, said Scott Melland, president of Dice Inc., a New York-based online job posting service.

Despite the grim numbers, hiring managers in the ITAA's survey said they expect to create about 1.1 million IT jobs within the next year. But due to a so-called skills imbalance, they expect about 600,000 of those jobs to remain unfilled.

Ron Fijalkowski, CIO at Strategic Distribution Inc., a $300 million supplier of manufacturing maintenance and repair parts in Feasterville, Pa., questioned the ITAA's report.

"I don't think those numbers are at all realistic," said Fijalkowski, noting that his company has no plans to hire new IT employees. "We have not let the water start flowing to go after projects on hold."

Fijalkowski is also skeptical about a skills imbalance.

"There are Java developers and skilled Microsoft individuals available for hire," he said. "I'm also getting numerous calls from [outsourcing firms] seeking work—and that includes offshore firms seeking work. I absolutely don't see an uptick in demand going on."

There are signs that IT jobs are returning, said Joanne Peterson, president of Abator Information Service Inc., an IT recruiting firm in Pittsburgh. But Peterson also said she doubts the ITAA's arithmetic, specifically its claim that as many as 600,000 jobs will go unfilled due to a lack of qualified candidates.

"I think we could staff every real job that is open with people who are not working," Peterson said. "I don't think we need to go to India to get a job filled."

Reporter Brian Sullivan contributed to this story.

Key Findings From The ITAA’s Survey

HOW THE AX FELL:

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IT companies cut 15% of their IT workers, while non-IT companies laid off only 4% of IT workers.

WHERE THE JOBS ARE:

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IT work appears to be migrating south. Demand for IT workers in the Midwest and West has fallen since 2000. Here’s a breakdown of where the IT jobs are:

Key Findings From The ITAAÕs Survey

Copyright © 2002 IDG Communications, Inc.

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