U.S. tech workforce down five per cent

The good news is that U.S. companies hired 2.1 million IT workers last year.

The bad news is that they fired 2.6 million, reducing the overall IT workforce by about 5 per cent to 9.9 million workers, according to results of a national IT workforce study released here today by the Information Technology Association of America.

At the top of companies’ 2001 layoff lists were technical support workers, such as help desk and customer service center employees, whose ranks were reduced by more than 911,000. Other losing job categories included database developers and software programmers/engineers, which lost 445,000 and 487,000 jobs, respectively.

The groups that lost the fewest number of jobs were digital media specialists, technical writers and enterprise systems support workers.

Results of the ITAA study were based on interviews with 532 hiring managers at companies with more than 50 employees. Interviews were conducted in February and March of this year.

According to ITAA President Harris Miller, hiring managers rated specific industry and technical experience as the top factors they considered when interviewing IT job candidates. Less important were technical certifications and general work experience.

This doesn’t bode well for the millions of graduates from college, technical study and certification programs who are now entering the IT job market. Compounding this group’s woes is the finding that companies are targeting the help desk and customer service as two areas to cut jobs. These same two areas are traditionally the biggest providers of entry-level IT positions.

“Entry-level positions have been reduced significantly since [the beginning] of 2001,” said Scott Melland, president of Dice Inc., an online job posting service. “Opportunities are fewer,” he added.

Despite the grim layoff numbers, hiring managers in ITAA’s survey also said they expect to create about 1.1 million IT jobs in the next year. But due to a so-called skills imbalance, they expect about 600,000 of these jobs to remain unfilled.

There are indicators that the job market is returning, said Joanne Peterson, president of Abator Information Service Inc., an IT recruiting firm Pittsburgh, but she isn’t willing to buy in to the ITAA’s numbers yet.

Peterson said many listings carried on online job boards are often double or triple dips. Various recruitment agencies often post the same job as they compete to get the position filled and capture the fee paid out by hiring companies.

Still, she said, the market seems to be coming back, and she thinks the second half of the year might bring some real relief to job seekers. “If I had to guess, really guess, I would say the end of September,” Peterson said.

Regarding the ITAA’s assertions that as many as 600,000 jobs will go unfilled due to a lack of qualified candidates, Peterson isn’t buying that at all.

“I think we could staff every real job that is open with people who are not working,” Peterson said. “I don’t think we need to go to India to get a job filled.”

Brian Sullivan contributed to this article.

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