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11/2/2012
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Tech Pros Optimistic About Job Growth

Independent tech field reps most optimistic about prospects than they've been in 15 months, survey finds.

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Despite Friday's slight uptick in the national unemployment rate, a new survey shows that independent IT field workers are more optimistic about work prospects than they have been in several quarters.

"There's a definite sense that things are improving," said Bill Lucchini, chief operating officer at OnForce, which operates a Web portal that connects companies needing temporary tech help with certified workers.

OnForce, whose corporate clients include AT&T and Comcast, conducts quarterly surveys of its members' confidence about getting work. In the current fourth quarter, 43% of 533 members surveyed said they were positive about their prospects over the next six months, compared to 31% who felt positive during the same period last year. Twenty one percent said they felt negative about the next six months, compared to 27% last year.

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Lucchini said a number of factors are behind the upbeat mood. One is the shift by businesses and consumers to mobile devices. "Tablets are huge," said Lucchini. "They represent a huge opportunity for service professionals."

Under a typical engagement, an OnForce customer such as Comcast might tap the service to find a worker who can respond to a service request for, say, an end user having Internet trouble. OnForce members also include tech pros with skills in point-of-sale systems and networking. Lucchini said the latter also is driving significant amounts of work for the site's roster of more than 100,000 members.

"People need networks, both at the consumer and retail levels," said Lucchini. Consumers, in particular, are installing increasingly complex networks to link their computers, televisions and mobile devices, and often don't have the skills to make it all work. Microsoft also drives demand for tech help whenever it releases new software. "We do a lot of PC upgrades," said Lucchini.

Surprisingly though, it's not Windows 8, which debuted Oct. 26, that is spurring pleas for help. "It's Windows 7 upgrades that are peaking right now," said Lucchini. That's consistent with other findings. A recent InformationWeek survey of IT pros found that 47% of enterprises have no plans to ">upgrade to Windows 8, and 64% will stick with Windows 7 for as long as possible.

OnForce's members' perception about their immediate prospects, as opposed to the next six months, is also improving, though it remains mostly negative. Thirty-three percent said they were positive, compared to 25% last year. Thirty-nine percent identified themselves as negative, down from 51% in the fourth quarter of 2011.

The survey is the latest evidence that things are picking up for tech workers. Comparing their IT organizations to a year ago, 47% of the 1,391 business technology pros who responded to InformationWeek's 2012 State of IT Staffing survey said staffing increased, 35% saw no change, and 18% saw a decrease.

The optimism comes despite the fact that unemployment in the country rose slightly in October, according to the Labor Department. The rate climbed to 7.9%, compared to 7.8% in September. Still, employers added 171,000 new jobs last month, the department said.

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