Tech job market stabilizes, but hiring is uneven

Over the last three months, the tech job market has been stabilizing and may even be improving in some areas -- particularly in management and consulting services, according to two separate reports analyzing the government's most recent labor data.

The big picture for all jobs is shaped by the U.S. Department of Labor in its monthly jobs reports, and on Friday it delivered the best news yet in this downturn: a loss of 11,000 jobs in November. That compared to 597,000 lost jobs in November 2008 and 741,000 that were lost in January.

Using that broad-based data to understand exactly what's going on in IT employment is complicated; the categories used by the government don't necessarily match the types of jobs and skills found among IT professionals. But two groups that analyze Labor Department data for tech employment patterns see a stabilizing market.

Tech employment remained nearly flat in November at 3.8 million, off 0.3% from October, according to the TechServe Alliance, an association of IT service firms in Alexandria, Va. In November 2008, tech employment peaked at just over 4 million workers. TechServe tracks three broad categories of tech workers in its monthly tally: computer systems and design services; ISPs, search portals and data processing; and telecommunications.

Mark Roberts, the CEO of TechServe, said, his firm's analysis shows a stabilization of the job market over the last three months, with some growth in the IT services sector. Roberts sees that as an early indicator of improvement to come.

In another analysis, David Foote, of Vero Beach Fla.-based Foote Partners LLC, a research and advisory firm, reported hiring gains in what this company identifies as five tech bellwether segments.

Two Labor Department job categories were responsible for a net gain of 11,200 IT jobs over the last three months (out of the five categories studied by Foote). They are management and technical consulting services, which added 13,300 jobs, and computer systems design and related services, which gained 5,200 jobs. Over this period, the data processing, hosting and related services fields lost 2,700 jobs; the computer and peripheral equipment category fell by 3,200 jobs; and the communications equipment area lost 1,400 jobs.

Foote said the three-month trend is "just more proof right there that there's positive momentum moving into the new year."

Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.

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