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Careers: Hiring Unsteady Despite Encouraging Government Report

For IT, the job numbers released recently by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) could be cause for celebration. BLS showed a net gain of 6,500 IT jobs in September, indicating consecutive months of positive IT job growth.

However, according to IT workforce management specialist Foote Partners, the IT job market isn't quite as resurgent as BLS data indicates.

The problem, says founder and chief research officer David Foote, is that the BLS statistics account for only a sliver -- between 16 and 20 percent by Foote's estimates -- of the IT job market.

"[T]hese are federal employment statistics that reflect only a small portion of what you and I would commonly refer to as the IT job market. We believe there are approximately 20 to 25 million IT professionals in the U.S. compared to the government's archaic definition of 4 million," argued Foote in a prepared release.

"The fact is that federal data doesn't specifically identify millions of IT professionals working in business lines, corporate departments, and in various enterprise strategic and operational functions."

The upshot, Foote reports, is that a rising IT jobs tide isn't lifting all IT boats.

Consider the IT services segment, which BLS dubs "Management and Technical Consulting Services." It accounted for more than two-thirds (68 percent) of new IT jobs, Foote points out. This wasn't just a blip on the IT jobs radar screen; IT services posted gains in nine of the last 12 BLS surveys.

By contrast, Foote points to job losses in a pair of IT bellwether sectors: "Computer Systems Design and Related Services" and "Data Processing, Hosting, and Related Services." Job losses in the former category offset several months of strong gains (during which almost 10,000 jobs were created); the "Data Processing" category, on the other hand, has been reliably hemorrhaging IT jobs, losing 6,000 jobs over the last seven months.

Not surprisingly, says Foote, IT will be a reliable growth engine going forward: "[B]usinesses are looking to the IT services industry to help them get their work done and this has created some healthy jobs growth in this sector."

Shops aren't exclusively hiring consultants, Foote concedes; at the same time, he emphasizes, the overall IT jobs market has been comparatively slow to recover.

"[Companies are] not depending entirely on consultants and managed services -- many of our clients are indeed also hiring workers with specific skills and experience -- but it's clear that demand for full-time workers outside the services sector in particular has not gained the kind of momentum that many analysts and pundits had been predicting earlier this year," he indicates.

Foote says a full-fledged IT jobs recovery will take a while. Longer, he suggests, than in previous downturn cycles.

"[T]he length of the tail on this staffing lag will be much longer than previous economic recoveries," he concludes. "Volatility will continue to punctuate staffing and pay levels throughout this year and next, with human capital investments focused on specific IT skill specializations as employers struggle to recalibrate their IT workforces and strike the right balance between costs, agility, and intense competitive market pressures."

Nor is prevailing economic climate helping matters, Foote adds: "With so much economic pessimism out there it is certain that this volatility will persist, thwarting any positive momentum that might show up from time to time."

About the Author

Stephen Swoyer is a Nashville, TN-based freelance journalist who writes about technology.

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