No one need remind us of the economic downturn that has put so many IT professionals on the streets: The economy for IT sucks, and most analysts at Gartner Group and other consulting firms expect few miracles over the next months. Yet, amid the doom and gloom, the Information Technology Association of America (ITAA) has released a report entitled "Bouncing Back: Jobs, Skills and the Continuing Demand for IT Workers." On the face of it, this report seems to have more in common with the tales of Polyanna than with the world that most of us IT professionals live in. Indeed, on some level the survey seems to conflict with other reports delivered by Computerworld, IDG.net, and others.
To derive this report, ITAA commissioned Market Decisions to conduct telephone interviews with 532 hiring managers from IT and non-IT organizations. The survey itself was sponsored and developed by a dozen organizations including Microsoft, Intel, the American Association of Community Colleges, and The Chubb Institute.
IT Loses 500,000 Jobs in 2002
According to the report, the number of IT jobs decreased dramatically in the early part of 2002. Of the 10.4 million professionals who compose the IT workforce, the number of jobs fell by 5 percentage points to 9.9 million workers. This was an aggregate loss of nearly a half a million jobs over a 12 month period. Though companies hired 2.1 million IT workers, they also let go 2.6 million.
Hardest hit were IT companies themselves: IT firms cut back their IT work force by 15%, while non-IT companies laid off only 4%. Nonetheless, considering that 92% of IT workers work for non-IT companies, a 4% drop in non-IT companies is actually greater than the 15% loss within the direct IT sector.
Technical support workers, according to the report, were the most likely personnel to be let go. By comparison, software programmers and engineers currently represent the largest category of IT workers in the United States, 21% of the overall IT workforce, with more than 2 million residing in the United States alone.
ITAA Projects a 500,000 Job Demand Gap in 2002?
Now the good news! That is, if you can believe the ITAA's tallies. According to the report, companies are "optimistic" about their future hiring opportunities over the next 12 months. The report projects an aggregate demand for IT workers of 1.1 million jobs in 2002. At the same time, the ITAA expects that more than a half-million of those jobs will go unfilled due to a lack of "qualified workers."
So let's get this straight, ITAA! IT is currently down by half a million jobs--people let go for economic reasons. However, according to these figures, there will be a demand for 1.1 million jobs this year, out of which only 50% will be filled because there aren't enough qualified people available to do the work! Is the glass half full or half empty? Or are the numbers simply being tweaked by these analysts to give the industry what it desires: more H-1B visas for visiting IT workers and more momentum for outsourcing!
Outsourcing Grows, Job Longevity Shrinks
For instance, the report states that, "As a means to cope for the lack of skilled workers, outsourcing continues to grow in popularity among non-IT companies, who cite an increase in outsourcing of 17% over 2001."
Perhaps most distressing of all is the longevity of IT worker retention: just slightly over 2 years for 84% of IT workers. This is actually down from estimates the previous year of 33 months, and non-IT companies (representing 92% of the IT jobs available) say they have reduced length of hire expectations from 3 years to less than 2. Database developers and administrators have the shortest retention rate, on average less than 10 months. By comparison, programmers and systems engineers have a retention rate of an average of 33 months.
Hot Areas: Security! Cross-Platform Languages!
It's not too surprising, considering the events of 9/11, that information security and network security are currently the hot areas in the IT arena, with the majority of the jobs being in the larger companies of 1,000 employees or more. The hottest skills profiles that were reported remain C++, followed by SQL, Java, and Windows NT.
While the ITAA report tries to paint a picture of optimistic trends in hiring (relying on company projections in interviews with hiring managers), the outlook is truly a double-edged sword for IT. Though the outlook for jobs looks promising, the stability of those jobs is really in question. Long gone from IT are the visions of a stable, long-term professional career with a single company. Instead, what we see in the ITAA numbers is a scramble for better-paying (or in today's market, any paying) gigs, with a short job life-expectancy and few incentives to stay with an individual organization. This, in turn, may mean that fewer non-IT organizations will have a real career path for their IT personnel, relying instead upon the volatility of the IT employment environment to meet their business needs.
Coders Remain the Bulwark of the IT Industry
At the same time, the heart and soul of the IT employment market remains the programmers and the systems engineers whose careers are coupled with cross-platform languages such as C++, SQL, and Java. (Nowhere in the report is RPG or its derivatives even mentioned as a force in IT languages.)
Finally, while the ITAA report is a picture of the larger IT industry--of which the iSeries 400 employment market is but a miniscule part--it's worthwhile to note that there are no metrics to identify the skills turnover rate within IT. For instance, why will a half-million jobs go unclaimed for lack of qualified workers when there are more than a half-million IT workers out of jobs? Is it because the skills required by IT organizations are so new that there is a lack of truly qualified individuals? Or is it because it is more expedient in this employment market to merely pick and choose the expertise that your organization needs, consume that expertise within a few company projects, and then cast the employee to the wind to fend for himself while the company continues on choosing the next set of skills that are needed?
Regardless of how the numbers are crunched, it appears that the real agenda in the ITAA report is to project the shortages of skilled workers and not to identify the mechanisms by which the employment imbalances might be explained.
The complete report from the ITAA, entitled "Bouncing Back: Jobs, Skills, and the Continuing Demand for IT Workers" is available at the ITAA Web site for $75.00. (http://www.itaa.org).