Mainstream Companies Seek Charming Programmers

By Susan Kuchinskas

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Are you a charmer with strong programming skills? Can you find happiness toiling in the IT department of a manufacturer or transportation company? Then American businesses would like to meet you.

Non-IT companies added the overwhelming majority of IT workers from 2003 to 2004 -- and they were more interested in candidates with good interpersonal skills than in those with project management or team building chops.

These findings are among the survey results by the Information Technology Association of America (ITAA), a trade association serving the information technology industry. Its Annual Workforce Development Survey garners responses from a random sampling of 500 hiring managers in the United States.

In the course of the survey, the ITAA found that the overall size of the IT workforce has grown slightly from 2003 to 2004, from approximately 10.3 million workers to 10.5 million workers, and non-IT companies represented 79 percent of employment for technical workers.

Programmers remained the largest single group of IT workers, although their head count actually dropped slightly in the past year, down almost 30,000 jobs. That's not the only number that fell: While workforce size has increased, demand for IT workers continues to drop. Hiring managers indicated that they will seek to fill approximately 230,000 jobs this year -- compared to almost 500,000 last year.

Technical support and network system design pros saw the largest year-to-year increases in employment, with both up five percent.

Tech support pros must be able to troubleshoot; analyze requirements; facilitate remedial action and customer service; install and configure new systems; perform systems monitoring; optimization and diagnostics; test and retest; and develop documentation. In the next three to five years, information security is the area with the greatest job growth potential.

The ITAA said that employers are most interested in previous experience in a related field and a four-year college degree in a related field. Once on the job, hiring managers said the best ways to get ahead are participation in formal on the job training (56 percent) and certification programs (55 percent). Seventy-one percent of survey respondents said certification or continuing education is either important or very important for advancement.

Companies said they expected to hold their employees for 30 months, four months longer than the retention expectations measured in 2002, mostly with the lure of a good overall compensation plan.

But landing that secure staff position won't be so easy for peripatetic IT professionals, the ITAA found. This cost-cutting, cautious environment means hiring managers are taking a hard look at whether they need to staff up in the first place; when they do, they demand productivity and contribution to the bottom line.

"Competitive pressure is an issue for employees and employers alike," the report concluded. "To be successful, IT workers must make themselves as valuable as possible to hiring companies. They must also make themselves the stewards of their own careers."