Current IT Job Losses Won't Mirror 2001 Nightmare

The number of IT jobs being posted to online job boards is shrinking as CIOs institute hiring freezes, former financial services giants eviscerate their IT staffs, and a steady stream of technology companies announce layoffs.

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Tom Silver, the SVP and CMO of Dice.com, an online job board geared toward IT pros in their mid-20s to mid-40s, says that the number of IT jobs advertised on his site had been holding steady at between 85,000 and 90,000 jobs until the September-October time frame, when the number of ads for IT jobs dipped significantly. "We've seen a drop of roughly 20 percent versus where we were last year," he says. "We're now around 70,000 jobs on the site."

The big markets for tech jobs-NYC, Silicon Valley, Chicago and Dallas-are experiencing the most significant declines in IT job opportunities, says Silver. Job opportunities are down 30 percent in Silicon Valley year over year, 25 percent in New York, 24 percent in Dallas and 21 percent in Chicago, according to Dice.com's data.

At ExecuNet, a career network for senior business and IT leaders, President Mark Anderson says demand for executive-level IT jobs has declined by 18 to 20 percent.

As bad as the IT employment situation is now, neither Silver nor Anderson think it's going to be as ugly as it was in 2001 and 2002 because there hasn't been the huge run-up in IT hiring that preceded the bursting of the Internet and Y2K bubbles.

"Unemployment for tech professionals is now around 3.5 percent, which is about half of what the national average is for unemployment, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics," says Silver. "In '01 and '02, unemployment was greater among tech professionals than among the national average. That's not going to happen this time because when companies rehired in '04 and '05, they didn't rehire at the same rate that they did in '99 and 2000. As a result, we don't expect to see a similar kind of drop off in 2009 as we saw in 2001 and 2002. Technology is still a good place to be. If you have strong skills, you're in demand."

Where You Can Find Available IT Jobs

One job board that is seeing an increase in ads for IT jobs is Vault.com. A spokesperson for that company says postings for tech jobs has increased more than 20 percent over the past three months, and that tech jobs are now the fastest growing industry for Vault. Technology ranks sixth in total jobs posted on Vault.

On Dice.com, job opportunities in less traditional markets for tech jobs, such as Cleveland, Cincinnati and Miami, are experiencing some growth, says Silver. Washington, D.C. is another good place to look for an IT job, he says. Listings on Dice.com for tech jobs inside the beltway are down only three percent year over year, buoyed by the federal government's ongoing investment in IT.

The IT skills employers on Dice are looking for include virtualization, open source, Ajax and Python.

ExecuNet's Anderson says that because IT skills are much more transferable than other functional skills, IT professionals in unstable industries like financial services, retail and auto should try to switch to growth industries like healthcare, energy and biotech.

As for the outlook for IT jobs in 2009, Silver hopes job listings will creep back up after the New Year. He says the number of job ads usually declines toward the end of the year, as hiring activity quiets down, but begins anew in January and increases steadily throughout the year. He hopes the same happens in 2009. Anderson expects hiring activity to remain slow in the first half of 2009 and hopes for a rebound in the second half.

The best thing to do right now, says Anderson, is to network. "In a down market, the best companies start looking for talent they can take advantage of to fill in their B and C players with A players," he says. "Search firms are spending this time trying to build connections to key players in their area of expertise. Now is a good time to build those relationships with recruiters so that when opportunities expand, you're on the inside. That will pay off when the market returns."

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