My return from Belgium, and back to work in my home office, coincides nearly exactly with the latest employment situation summary for February, 2010. Although the numbers reported include an unexpected dip in unemployment (from the unchanged 10.0% reported for the preceding month of December, 2009, to 9.7% for January, 2010) they also include a scary and sobering statistic. That is, the ranks of the unemployed now number a staggering 9.3 million people, of which 6.3 million are classified as “long-term unemployed:” people who would, in fact, be working if circumstances were such that they had a job to hold.
Given that IT represents about 5.35% of the total workforce, that’s somewhere in the neighborhood of 313,000 IT professionals out seeking work. As I’ve observed in other blogs, IT may be poised for an upturn later in 2010, but that turn is going to have to climb to significantly higher levels to reabsorb all of the IT professionals currently un- or under-employed. Then, too, we must also include the 1.3 million individuals who will earn a college degree of some kind in 2010, adding another 70,000 individuals likely to also seek employment in some kind of IT role or another (assuming the same proportion of IT degrees as there are IT workers in the general workforce).
What does all this mean? Although the economy may have turned a corner, and improvements are already in progress, it’s still going to be some time before employment in the US returns to anything like normal. And of course, what holds for the economy also holds for IT: most experts do anticipate some kind of uptick in IT hiring by the second half of 2010, but with over 300,000 people from the under- or unemployed contending for those positions, along with another 70,000 individuals who will be knocking at the door for entry-level positions, things could remain “interesting” for a long time.
There are those who believe that IT will never return to its former glory days and soak up all of the excess people who are ready to return to work, or who soon will be ready to join the IT work force. I happen to think that IT is increasingly an engine for growth and competitive advantage, and have to believe that a real recovery will mean that the excess gets soaked up and demand continues upward even from there. But only time will tell, and I can’t even say how soon will be soon enough to say if I’m dreaming or onto a genuine relationship between enabling technology—namely, IT—and real market growth.