Jobless Recovery - InformationWeek

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Jobless Recovery

IT isn't producing more jobs, but new data shows some categories fare worse than others

You already know the employment situation is bad; now the data is available to show the true state of the business-technology job market. InformationWeek's analysis of newly parsed government data provides an eye-opening picture of IT employment. If you're a computer programmer or a database administrator, you face jobless rates higher than the general workforce. The same applies if your college degree dates from around 1970 or earlier. But the situation is better than average if you're a business-technology manager, computer scientist, or software engineer.

These are pieces of the picture emerging from new employment data that dissects the workforce into jobs that more closely reflect the real state of business computing. Since January, the U.S. Census Bureau has used eight job categories to collect employment information on business-technology workers. The categories include jobs not defined under the old three-category system, such as computer and information-systems managers, software engineers, support specialists, and database administrators.

The old system, in use for more than a decade, counted only systems analysts, programmers, and computer operators, the dominant job categories at a time when most commercial computing was done on mainframes. As new jobs emerged, they were subsumed into one of the original categories or counted as part of other professions.

Nine months of data collected under the new system shows that, like much of the rest of the economy in this "jobless recovery," the IT sector hasn't added jobs this year. It had 3.3 million people employed in January and February and 3.2 million in September.

chartThe new data pegs the average monthly IT jobless rate at 5.8%, marginally better than the 6.1% unemployment rate for all Americans during the same period. That rate, so close to the overall percentage, is in stark contrast to the situation a few years ago, when IT unemployment was regularly several percentage points lower than the overall rate.

In specific categories, the data reveals that programmers face the highest jobless rate at 7.1%, and database administrators are next at 6.6%. At the other end, computer scientists and systems analysts have a 5.1% unemployment rate and software engineers 5.4%

What the numbers don't show is that for individuals with specific in-demand skills, the hiring picture may be improving. There's been an uptick in demand for people with Microsoft .Net and other software development skills and those with experience using business-intelligence products from vendors such as Business Objects, Cognos, and SAS Institute, says Ryan Gilmore, a branch manager for IT temporary staffing firm Robert Half Technology. "People who know how to use technology to help their companies make better strategic business decisions are in demand," he says.

People with experience beyond IT are getting hired, Gilmore says. For example, people with IT plus a finance background are sought to fill IT-audit positions related to the Sarbanes-Oxley Act financial-reporting regulations for public companies.

And this should help: IBM last week revealed plans to recruit 10,000 specialists in areas such as Linux development, middleware technologies, and professional services (see story, "IBM Goes Headhunting").

Household International Inc. increased its IT staff by about 11% since January, adding 267 people. Experienced project managers are among the people the financial-services company is looking for. But competition is tough: Household International gets about 100 resumés for every open position.

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