Trade Group: US Tech Industry Gained Jobs in 2008

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The U.S. high-tech industry gained about 77,000 jobs in 2008, despite losses of 38,000 jobs in the fourth quarter of the year, according to a report from trade group TechAmerica.

Two segments of the high-tech industry driving the job gains in 2008 were software services, including software publishing, custom programming and computer systems design, and engineering and tech services, including computer training, testing labs and research and development, said the report, released Tuesday.

TechAmerica officials said they were generally optimistic about the U.S. tech sector, despite a continuing U.S. recession. "The tech sector ... has weathered the storm longer and stronger than most other sectors of our economy," said Phil Bond, president of TechAmerica, made up of four recently merged trade groups including AeA and the Information Technology Association of America.

TechAmerica officials, however, declined to give job forecasts for 2009, saying they haven't traditionally done so when releasing their annual Cyberstates report. The outlook for 2009 is "clouded by some uncertainty" because of the U.S. economy, but the tech sector is positioned to contribute to an economic recovery, with funds coming from an economic stimulus package passed by the U.S. Congress in mid-February and elsewhere, Bond said.

The economic stimulus package included US$19 billion for health IT and $7.2 billion for broadband deployment, plus money for deployment of a smart energy grid.

Currently, there are a lot of hiring freezes in Silicon Valley in addition to recent layoffs, noted David Thomas, executive director of TechAmerica Silicon Valley. More layoffs are likely in the near term, he said.

However, some signs point to improving conditions, with SaaS (software-as-a-service) firms doing well, Thomas added. With hardware costs minimized, SaaS seems to be a popular and conservative choice for a lot of buyers, he said.

While orders were down for the Silicon Valley tech sector in December and January, "opportunities are starting to return," Thomas said. "They're not happy yet with the level, but they are seeing signs of improvement and there's some encouragement on the horizon."

For all of 2008, software services added 86,200 jobs across the U.S., according to TechAmerica, and engineering and tech services added 26,600 jobs. Those jobs only include jobs at tech companies, not IT jobs at other companies, such as banks or hospitals.

Those gains were offset by a 23,100-job decrease in high-tech manufacturing, including computer and peripheral equipment, communications equipment, consumer electronics and semiconductors. Another high-tech sector losing jobs in 2008 was communications services, including Internet service providers, wired telecom carriers and mobile carriers, which dropped 12,700 jobs during the year.

Software services employment even increased, by 12,600 jobs or 0.7 percent, in the fourth quarter of 2008, TechAmerica said.

The report gives "another extraordinarily clear market signal to young Americans: There are good jobs ... available," Bond said. "They are not going away, and they're going to be here for the future. Young people across the country should really think about science, technology, engineering and mathematics degrees."

While unemployment was up slightly in high-tech fields, it was still relatively low, the report said. Computer scientists had a 2.4 percent unemployment rate at the end of the year, and engineers had a 2.5 percent unemployment rate, the report said. The U.S. unemployment rate in February was 8.1 percent, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

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