Bright Spots for Tech in a Dark Economic Picture

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The state of today's economy has triggered many economists, job experts and hiring managers to warn of layoffs and hiring contractions, and tech pros themselves have become skeptical about job security and future opportunities. Despite these concerns, the outlook for U.S. employment, particularly in the tech sector, is not as dismal as some fortunetellers would lead us to believe.

An increasing number of studies and reports are emerging, boasting of the strength of the IT profession and indicating that job opportunities will only continue to grow as we move into the next decade.

In July, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported the seventh consecutive month of negative job growth. More than 51,000 jobs were slashed. Although not as severe as the loss of 72,000 jobs that was predicted, this cut still brought the total number of unemployed in the U.S. to 8.8 million -- 5.7% of the population. That's 1.6 million more than in the same month last year, and a four-year high.

But although the overall job market continued to worsen in the second and third quarters, employment in the IT sector is not nearly as bleak. In fact, according to the National Association of Computer Consultant Businesses, IT employment is on the rise.

This year, businesses have added close to 90,000 IT professionals to their rosters -- a gain that lies in stark contrast to the job market as a whole, which had cut a total of 463,000 jobs by the end of Q2. What's more, in June the number of IT pros employed in the U.S. reached an all-time high of close to 4 million.

Wages in the IT sector are holding steady. The latest Yoh Index of Technology Wages found that pay remained stable throughout the second quarter and even finished up slightly (0.29%) from June of last year. It's not robust growth, but it's also not the black hole everyone has been predicting.

So, why are tech jobs defying the pace of the employment market as a whole? To begin, the economy's current struggles are different from those earlier in the decade, when overvalued tech stocks caused the bubble to burst, sending many technology companies, and the economy, tumbling. This time, the slowdown was sparked by the subprime mortgage crisis, putting contractors and real estate moguls -- not techies -- at greatest risk.

Second, there are certain skills that a business simply can't live without -- skills that no recession or economic downturn can eliminate the need for. In fact, in many cases, the workers who possess such skills become even more valuable during an economic slump or recession, because they are integral to keeping the company afloat and moving forward.

For example, regardless of the status of the economy, there will always be a demand for tech workers involved in R&D or product development, since they create or enhance a company's product line.

All About Relationships

Another area where companies need to maintain a steady supply of talent is in customer relationship management (CRM). Maintaining good relationships with customers is integral to a company's success, especially when a slumping economy is prompting consumers and businesses to curb their spending.

A recession is no time to be losing customers, and gaining new ones can be difficult. The last thing a business wants or needs is for its customers to become dissatisfied and jump ship for a competitor.

That said, highly skilled tech workers are needed to maintain the CRM software and programming that companies such as SAP have made available. And there's currently a shortage of these workers. For example, the demand for SAP talent currently outweighs the supply by more than 30,000 workers. Recruiters simply cannot find people to fill these roles fast enough.

In today's slowdown, many businesses are retaining their high-tech talent and looking to hire and to expand their technology budgets. According to the last bimonthly CDW IT Monitor, 25% of midsize businesses are planning to hire more IT workers. What's more, the number of midsize companies expecting to increase IT budgets reached 64%, an increase of 10 percentage points since April.

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