High-Tech Job Market Showing Signs of Recovery

After several years of stalled projects, budget cuts and pink slips, the high-tech job market is showing signs of life. New figures show that in the past few months, the environment for tech professionals, and the demand for them, has improved.
After several years of stalled projects, budget cuts and pink slips, the high-tech job market is showing signs of life.

''This isn't a maybe situation,'' says Tom Silver, a senior vice president at Dice, Inc., an Urbandale, Iowa-based online recruiting company for high-tech professionals. ''Things are definitely looking up. Certainly, the environment for tech professionals, and the demand for them, has improved.''

Silver says at the beginning of the year, the Dice Web site listed between 28,000 and 29,000 high-tech jobs. Today, it lists 44,000 jobs.

''Tech professionals bore the brunt of the downturn in the last few years and now they're starting to see it pick up,'' adds Silver. ''Companies are seeing economic conditions improve and there's more confidence on the hiring side of the house. IT-related projects are coming off the back burner.''

For the last three or four years, CIOs and business executives have been putting the brakes on IT projects. Operating systems have not been updated. Data bases have not been expanded. Wireless has not been added. Companies saved money by tightening the purse strings, but now a lot of infrastructure is due to be updated or replaced.

And Silver says the updating -- and the spending -- is starting to happen.

''They felt they could delay their infrastructure improvements and save some money,'' says Silver. ''But you can only do that for so long. They wanted to go from Windows 98 to Windows 2000, but never got there. Now they're going to Windows XP. They just have to. The systems they have in-house don't work as efficiently and as productively as they need them to.''

Initiating those improvements means that there's an increasing call for project managers, according to Dice's figures, which show a 21-percent uptick in demand for this skill set in April.

''The demand for that particular skill took a pretty big hit in 2001 and 2002,'' says Silver. ''Certainly, they're coming back now. It's the need for an implementation supporter. As the number of projects grows, the demand for project managers will grow.''

Other good areas include high-level programmers with experience in C++ and Java, and tech workers with data base management skills.

What took the biggest hit during the downturn and is still suffering are the 'soft skills', which Silver describes as Web site design, technical writing and lower-level programming.

''I think the overall demands for e-commerce and softer skills is still a bit off,'' says Silver. ''If you know Java or C++, that's fine. But if you're a technical writer or a designer, those jobs aren't coming back as quickly. It's not a bad place to be but it's not coming back as well.''

Silver, though, notes that the high-tech job market would be a better place to be if it weren't for offshoring.

The fact that so many American companies are moving high-tech work to third-party vendors in countries like India, China and Russia, has been causing a political upheaval here in the U.S. Help desk-related jobs, as well as programming positions, have taken a particularly tough hit.

And Silver says it shows in the number of jobs that are available within U.S. borders.

''At least so far, the majority of those jobs are lower-level programming jobs and help desk-type of positions,'' he explains. ''I can't give you the exact number of jobs that have gone overseas because the numbers are all over the place. But if offshoring weren't happening, there would be a broader and faster recovery for the tech market, without a doubt. How much better? I can't tell you. But this will continue. I don't see offshoring slowing down.''

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