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Jobless Recovery

IT isn't producing more jobs, but new data shows some categories fare worse than others
Sutter Health, which operates health-care facilities in Northern California, has had a different experience. It has had difficulty filling 35 IT positions, some of which have been open for six months, says John Hummel, senior VP and CIO. The jobs range from Web programmers to Six Sigma-type process engineers. "Bottom line is that we're hiring and expect to increase hiring in 2004," Hummel says.

Online job-search company Monster reports a pickup in the number of tech jobs being posted on its Web site. Hardware postings were up 33% from August to September and software jobs 28%. "There's been a fairly dramatic increase. ... People are getting jobs again," says Jeff Taylor, founder and "chief monster" at the Monster Worldwide Inc. division.

While there's some upward movement in demand for IT talent, "there's still a larger supply than demand," says Robert Half's Gilmore, and "it's still a buyers' market." Offshore outsourcing is partly to blame, he says. But it isn't just foreign service providers that are making it hard for programmers, in particular, to find work. Relatively high unemployment in that job category can also be attributed to companies relying more on packaged software than developing their own programs.

One message is clear: To stay employed, you've got to stay current. Men's clothing retailer Casual Male Retail Group Inc. is slowly whittling down its IT workforce, which has about 65 people, because it's moving off a mainframe environment to distributed computing. "You've got experts in Cobol who can't do much else," says Ken Goldstein, an economist at the Conference Board. "Imagine being 55 years of age and being told you don't have a job."

Unemployment of IT workers age 60 and over approached 11.8% in the first nine months, more than double the nearly 5% rate of the 29-and-under crowd (see chart, above). That's the opposite of the overall U.S. workforce, where the jobless rate decreases with age, starting at 10.3% for people 29 and under and decreasing to 4.1% for those over 60.

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Business-technology managers fare better than most other IT job categories. But their 5.6% unemployment rate pales in comparison with managers in the overall workplace, who boast a 2.9% rate.

And the harsh reality is that the longer you're out of work, the harder it is to get rehired. A lot can happen if a worker steps out of the workforce for several months, says Dennis Hernreich, executive VP, chief operating officer, and CFO at Casual Male, and it can be hard to keep up with the various certifications and accreditations needed to be competitive. "IT is a constantly changing, dynamic, moving area of business," Hernreich says. In that regard, the fast-paced environment that attracts so many people to careers in business technology in the first place can work against those who fall behind.

-- with Beth Bacheldor and Marianne Kolbasuk McGee