With the dot-com crash of the 1990s still resonating with CIOs and recruiters, job seekers in the technology industry continue to face a tough market even as the sector begins to stabilize.
The Information Technology Association of America (ITAA) reports that between the first quarters of 2003 and 2004 the information technology sector experienced a mere 2 percent increase in employment. The association also expects a drop in hiring in the year ahead amid relatively poor economic conditions and cost cutting.
"The marketplace has slowly begun to re-absorb workers that were displaced, but it's not a brisk marketplace," says Bob Cohen, ITAA senior vice-president. "What we're seeing is a job market slowly recovering from perturbation in recent years that really caused a drop-off in demand for IT workers."
But while recovery in the tech job market is off to a shaky start, Mr. Cohen says opportunities continue to be created by non-IT companies. In 2004, industries such as banking, finance, manufacturing, food service, and transportation accounted for 89 percent of new IT jobs – and 79 percent of the nation's entire IT workforce.
"The bulk of IT jobs have always been predominantly in the user end, in industries that are very IT-enabled," says Mr. Cohen. "A knowledge of banking and finance, an understanding of accounting systems within a business, the requirements within retail operations -- jobs are going to people who know a lot about IT, but also know a lot about how to supply to a particular area of endeavor."
Hot jobs also are being landed by IT professionals with "people" skills. In a recent survey of 500 IT hiring managers conducted by the ITAA, interpersonal skills were said to be the most important "soft" skill for employees at companies of all sizes.
The survey also found that employers determined information security to be the area with the greatest job-growth potential over the next three to five years. "Information security, the whole phenomenon of securing systems from outside attack, that is where the demand is being created, " says Mr. Cohen. "Probably the steadiest growth, in the short term, will continue to be in the federal marketplace and in state and local law enforcement."
Short-term opportunities are extending to college graduates as well. The "National Association of Colleges and Employers Job Outlook 2005" survey found new college graduates with accounting, electrical engineering, mechanical engineering, and computer-related degrees have the most promising job outlook this year.
Candidates with master's degrees in business, engineering, and computer-related fields are also highly sought by employers. Software design and development ranked as the top-paying job for 2004 grads, with an average starting salary of $53,630.
Steady short-term job growth may also benefit minority candidates including Hispanics, who comprised 5.4 percent of the information technology workforce in 1996 and 6.3 percent in 2002, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Historically considered an industry associated with young, white males, the tech industry gradually is becoming synonymous with diversity as global companies look to minority outreach programs to attract talent from different backgrounds.
Companies such as IBM, Sun Microsystems, and Microsoft sponsor diversity initiatives including diversity-networking groups, affirmative-action plans, and events and activities aimed at boosting minority representation among their employee and executive ranks.
"Diversity is important because it brings an additional perspective that is needed. It's about developing products that are enhanced from your original notion of what works in the marketplace," says Gayle Cruise, manager of Diversity Marketing and Communications at Microsoft. "Microsoft has offices across the country and across the world. It's really important that we have employees that represent the community so that the dialogue and exchange is one without barriers."
In addition to sponsoring diversity events and activities, Microsoft publishes its own employee diversity publication (Microsoft Pathways) and funds science and technology scholarships for minority students. The company also pursues minority candidates through Employee Resource Groups, organizations created by Microsoft employees to provide support, mentoring, and networking opportunities, and assist in college recruiting and promoting cultural awareness in the community.
Still, an increase in short-term hiring and greater emphasis on diversity recruitment aside, experts recommend that technology job seekers remain patient.
"It's important to remember the economy is based on information, and information technology has entered our national infrastructure just like roads and bridges," says Mr. Cohen. "We are not going to go backwards in terms of our reliance on those skills. We are on the verge of the retirement of the 'baby boomers,' the people that have built this industry. That's going to create a tremendous pull for replacement workers. For the most part, it's a slow but steady recovery."
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