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Feds Redefine 'IT Worker,' As Tech Unemployment Falls

Web developer and information security analyst are among the new job categories

U.S. IT unemployment fell to 4.5% in the first quarter of this year, well below the 5.3% it has averaged the past eight quarters and identical to the rate for managerial and professional jobs overall this quarter, according to the latest report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. That report is the first to rely on new IT job categories used for the 2010 U.S. census, categories that in part reflect how important the Web has become to the profession in the past 10 years.

The data shows 3.8 million people employed in U.S. IT-related jobs.

To track IT employment, the federal government created four entirely new job categories: information security analyst, Web developer, computer network architect, and computer network support specialist. (Definitions of these jobs are here.) For example, a Web developer is someone who does the technical work of creating and feeding a website, and researches user needs as part of the site development process, but not a "multimedia artist or animator." In addition to the new categories, some existing IT job descriptions have been revised. There are now 12 key IT job categories, compared with eight before. The breakdown below shows the share for each of the total 3.8 million IT jobs this past quarter:

-- Software developers: 25%

-- Computer and information systems managers: 15%

-- Computer support specialists: 13%

-- Computer programmers: 12%

-- Computer systems analysts: 11%

-- Computer occupations, all other: 6%

-- Network and computer systems administrators: 6%

-- Web developers: 4%

-- Database administrators: 4%

-- Computer network architects: 2%

-- Information security analysts: 1%

-- Computer and information research scientists: 0.5%

For IT pros thinking about their careers, the most important piece of the BLS statistics is the health of overall IT employment. In the more than 10 years that InformationWeek has tracked the BLS data, it has proved a fairly accurate indicator--though a lagging one--of the health of the U.S. IT job market. For example, it tracked the plunge in IT jobs in the 2002 recession, and it showed the loss of programming jobs as Y2K work ended and outsourcing grew in the early 2000s, along with a corresponding increase in IT management jobs. The BLS stats captured the drop in IT jobs beginning in the fourth quarter of 2008, amid the banking crisis that ignited the latest recession.

The BLS uses job descriptions created by the U.S. Census Bureau and then does monthly surveys of households to track employment trends. It's an unenviable undertaking, having to come up with job descriptions to cover the entire tech industry that have to withstand the changes of an entire decade. The latest change in job classifications create a break in the data, so long-term trends aren't comparable for individual job segments. But the trends for total IT jobs should still be comparable.

On that front, U.S. IT employment still hasn't climbed back to its peak of early 2008, when about 4.1 million people held IT jobs. In the wake of the financial crisis, U.S. companies wiped out about 260,000 jobs in one quarter, jobs the economy has only slowly started to build back.

The latest employment stats show progress in job creation, though it's painfully slow. The 2011 InformationWeek Analytics Salary Survey, which we'll publish later this month, finds a similar slow return to growth, with median raises of 2% for IT managers and 1% for staffers this year. Last year, the median raise was zero.

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