Ask the IT Consultant

May 1 2011   1:00PM GMT

Uncovering the Truth about the IT Job Market…

Beth Cohen Beth Cohen Profile: Beth Cohen

Question:  I am hearing conflicting reports about the strength of the IT job market in the next few years.  Is IT a field that a new grad should seriously consider?

A recent article in the Boston Globe listed computer software and systems software engineers, computer applications software engineers and network systems and data communications analyst jobs as three of the top 30 fastest growing jobs by 2018.  In a further boost to the rosy outlook, in an April 2011 interview with Computer World, David Foote states that the IT workforce is gaining jobs as employers demand IT skills across the board.  For many of those in the trenches who have seen the steady erosion of IT jobs because of automation and off-shoring, this might come as a bit of a surprise.  In support of contrary empirical evidence, recent information from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics indicates that tech unemployment remains higher than the white-collar average.  My personal experience knowing many highly skilled and motivated software engineers and IT folks out of work for long periods of time would indicate there is something amiss in all the statistics and forecasts on both sides of the fence.  The truth is going to be far more complex.

In response to Mr. Foote’s comments about IT job growth, while the prospects for workers with IT skills are good, these are for the most part not new IT positions, but rather positions outside of IT that require new IT skills in addition to the many other skills demanded by the job.  As an illustration, the old secretary job no longer exists – they are all called administrative assistants.  Same low pay, but they are now required to be skilled in all the office productivity software.  In addition the role has shifted to what used to be called Girl Friday, since most managers – another dying profession as organizations flatten out – are expected to type all their own correspondence themselves, using email and other software applications they are expected to be conversant in.

During the recession of the past few years, the US shed 9 million jobs in all sectors of the economy.  Even if the economy returned to the robust growth rate of 12 years ago (which I don’t see happening), I do not see how these jobs are coming back any time soon.  The sorry truth is that while the jobs disappeared from the US, they reappeared overseas, as corporations shifted first manufacturing, then knowledge workers to cheaper labor markets.  For example, IBM no longer tracks its US based employee population simply because it does want to admit that 75% of its employees are now based overseas.  A few years ago it laid off 15,000 employees in the US at the same time it hired 17,000 new employees in India.  One can argue that IBM is a global company and that maybe 75% of its work is overseas as well, but anyone who has done business with IBM in the US, knows that is not the case. Labor arbitrage is a powerful profit motivator that will take decades to balance out.

Back to the original question, in the end I would not recommend my students go into the IT field per se, but I would encourage them to take IT classes and learn valuable IT skills to complement their marketing, business, and finance skills they need to be successful.  I maintain that IT as a profession in the US is still losing jobs and will continue to shed jobs at a great rate for the foreseeable future, but IT skills have become essential for any other profession in today’s highly competitive market.

About the Author

Beth Cohen, Cloud Technology Partners, Inc. Moving companies’ IT services into the cloud the right way, the first time!

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