IT Employment Lost Ground in 2001

By Jim Wagner

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IT executives - along with programmers and network and database administrators - have faced a difficult labor market following the dot-com bust and new scrutiny over capital expenditures, and might have better job prospects north of the U.S. border, according to two studies released Monday.

Due to a dearth of demand for IT workers, the U.S. high-tech workforce in 2001 fell by 500,000 to 9.9 million workers. That's a 5 percent drop from 10.4 million jobs in 2000, according to the Information Technology Association of America report.

The first to go in many corporations were tech support divisions, according to the report, which saw an overall 15 percent reduction in IT jobs while only 4 percent of non-IT positions were scaled back. However, programmers were still in demand throughout 2001, a caveat the report's authors found encouraging.

"This is obviously a good news/bad news report for IT workers," said Harris Miller, ITAA president. "Revenue growth in the IT industry stalled in the past year, and now we know that IT employment has actually lost ground."

To be sure, the Arlington, Va.-based trade association still tried to put an upbeat spin on today's bleak survey results, entitling the report "Bouncing Back: Jobs, Skills and the Continuing Demand for IT Workers."

ITAA expects 500,000 new hires in 2002; those with previous experience and/or certifications (i.e. Microsoft Certified Systems Engineers or Cisco Certified Professionals) will have priority over fresh college graduates.

It also expects 600,000 jobs to go unfulfilled out of the 1.1 million potential jobs available, attributable to a lack of quality potential hires in 2002. "We think the situation will be short lived, with employers filling positions they were forced to cut in the recession," Miller explained. "We have seen a bubble burst...but the digital economy is here to say."

As evidence, Oxford Health Plans of Trumbull, Conn., last week recalled its IT staff, cancelling a five-year, $195 million outsourcing deal with Computer Sciences Corp. (Read related story, "Bucking Trend, Oxford Health Cancels Outsourcing Deal.")

Meanwhile, the Information Technology Association of Canada (ITAC) reported that a survey finds IT workers might have better leverage in Canada.

ITAC commissioned IDC Canada and Aon Consulting to conduct a survey, which predicts that 38,000 IT jobs will be added in 2002, potentially creating a gap of approximately 9,900 unfilled positions. There had been a surplus of IT workers in 2001.

"We've learned that with the downturn in the economy and in our industry, the shortage problem abated briefly. But it looks like we've had a very short respite. The skills shortage will be back with us very soon," said Gaylen Duncan, Information Technology Association of Canada (ITAC) president.

Editor's note: This story first appeared on internet.com's InternetNews.com.