Job Prospects Improve for Some Tech Workers

Perhaps the best thing to be said about IT hiring in 2010 is that mass layoffs tapered off significantly from their height during the 2008-09 recession, and that the long-term trend finally seems to favor job growth, albeit at a slow pace.

IT industry group TechServe Alliance said that its analysis of a U.S. Department of Labor report released early this month found that IT employment increased by 600 jobs in November on a base of 3.9 million jobs. Overall, U.S. employers added 39,000 jobs last month, according to the government report.

TechServe said that based on its monthly analysis of government jobs reports, IT employment increased by 2.5% from January through November of this year.

For sure, some IT workers are still losing their jobs, particularly in the weakest areas of the economy, such as state and local government. Camden, N.J., for example, recently announced plans to lay off one in four city workers, including about four IT staffers, to cover a large budget shortfall.

Tech spending is expected to rebound next year, with IDC predicting 5.7% growth, up from 3% this year. It remains unclear whether that increase will translate into hiring or outsourcing.

One clue that IT hiring should improve next year comes from market research firm Computer Economics Inc. In a recent survey of IT managers at 136 firms in the U.S. and Canada with revenues over $50 million, it found that 48% of the managers polled plan to add staff next year. Only 11% said they expect to cut staff in 2011.

"The layoffs are over, people are starting to add workers to their payrolls, but it is going to be modest," said John Longwell, the firm's vice president of research.

According to Society for Information Management surveys, employers are seeking a balance of skills from IT professionals, including technical skills, general business and industry knowledge, negotiation and communication skills, and a sense of ethics, said Jerry Luftman, a professor at Stevens Institute of Technology who conducts IT budget allocation surveys for SIM.

Summarizing the employer's viewpoint, Luftman said, "If you're just going to offer me technical skills, I might as well go offshore and get it a lot cheaper."

However, he's bullish on the IT employment outlook for tech workers who also have business skills, which will likely help them survive as offshore outsourcing increases.

Business advisory and consulting firm The Hackett Group said companies are turning more and more to outsourcing to cut costs, which could blunt job growth somewhat. Sending IT work offshore is "the new reality," said Chief Research Officer Michel Janssen. "It's not good if you are an employee looking for a job, but [offshoring] is required for survival" at many companies.

Patrick Thibodeau covers SaaS and enterprise applications, outsourcing, government IT policies, data centers and IT workforce issues for Computerworld. Follow Patrick on Twitter at

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