IT workers proved their worth in the first half of 2020, helping their organizations set up their workforces for remote work and an alternate way of doing business and going to market. But the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic meant that some of these workers lost their jobs in IT over the course of 2020. IT jobs across industries saw declines in July, August, and September.
Now that trend has been turned around for October, according to industry organization CompTIA. What's more, the three other IT employment metrics tracked by CompTIA are also trending up at the same time.
"This is the first time all four core metrics we track moved in a positive direction since February," said Tim Herbert, executive VP of research and market intelligence at CompTIA, in an interview with InformationWeek. That sound you hear is a collective sigh of relief after a year of surprises, fast pivots, and a huge measure of uncertainty for IT organizations, IT pros, and the economy as a whole.
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The four employment metrics tracked by CompTIA are IT sector (tech company) employment, IT occupation employment (IT jobs across all industry sectors), the unemployment rate for IT occupations, and employer job posting for new IT hires. CompTIA defines IT sector jobs as any jobs, technical or not, at technology companies such as Microsoft, HPE, or Google. CompTIA defines IT occupation jobs as IT jobs within any non-tech employer, for instance, the IT jobs within Walmart or John Deere or Penn Medicine.
Specifically, tech companies added 14,200 workers in October in an unspecificied combination of technical and non-technical jobs. For instance, non-technical jobs at tech employers may include retail workers or administrative workers.
IT occupations across all industries increased by 142,000 jobs. In addition, the unemployment rate for IT occupations fell to 2.8% in October from 3.5% in September. Also, employer job postings for new hires climbed by more than 14,000 last month to nearly 239,000.
These are all welcome signs at the end of a turbulent year.
"It's not an exaggeration that we had the biggest fall in employment since the Great Depression" earlier this year, Herbert said. "That seems so long ago now, but that drop was off the page... It happened so quickly and it was truly unpredictable."
Now, looking forward for 2021, the signs look positive for a return to more normal operations, albeit, a "new normal."
Herbert said that IT job postings are showing a greater demand for emerging skills. In 2019, roughly 22% of all IT hiring advertisements had some reference to these skills with the top ones being AI and data related, but also advanced cybersecurity. For 2020 so far that figure has increased to 25%, Herbert said.
That's because companies are looking for skills to continue with their digital transformation initiatives, but also, they are broadening their skills requirements because data is so important across the entire organization.
In October, postings for software and application developers accounted for nearly one-third of the total job advertisements. Other hot areas included IT support specialists, (22,000), engineers and architects (18,800), systems analysts (14,800) and IT project managers (14,000).
In a shift from previous years, the number of IT job openings that specifically offered remote work or work-from-home as an option in October sat at 22%, in line with where it has been for much of 2020. Herbert noted that many tech companies have announced plans to enable some or all of their workers to work from home for the foreseeable future, with Microsoft as one of the most recent tech giants to announce such a policy.
Herbert said that the work-from-home trend will continue into 2021 and have larger consequences across the economy with commercial real estate companies in particular seeing a downside.
Herbert said that projections for job growth on the IT occupations side is currently at about 2.4% for 2021, and that's right around the average growth rate for the last 5 years, he said. For IT sector jobs, the growth rate is expected to be 2.4%. If there's an effective, broadly distributed COVID-19 vaccine, that number could be higher, he said, and if there are new strains of COVID, those numbers may be a little lower.
For IT pros who want to focus on factors they can control in 2021, skills such as AI, data, cloud, and cybersecurity are all likely to remain in high demand, and industries such as IT services are likely to be hiring in the new year.