IT Jobs Slowly Grow, Wages 'Still Settling'

As the economy slowly improves, the demand for IT jobs -- particularly security jobs -- is on the upswing.
As the economy slowly improves, the demand for network security positions is on the upswing, according to one technical job-placement firm.

''There is a definite increase in [Information Technology] jobs, especially in security as it relates to networks and databases,'' says Michael P. Turner, a vice president for The Atlanta-based company, which has some 1.3 million registered users, has seen a 30 percent to 40 percent increase in the number of jobs in those areas in the last six months.

''I don't know if it's since 9/11 or because of all the viruses going around, but network security is huge now,'' Turner says.

Likewise, John Challenger, CEO of the Chicago-based job placement firm Challenger Gray & Christmas, predicts that as companies continue to ''infuse computer technology into every nook of their business,'' the demand for jobs in computer security, as well as applications development, network administration and broadband, will keep increasing in the long-term.

In the last two months, some 13,500 new jobs were created in the U.S. computer industry alone, notes Challenger, whose firm tallies announcements of planned hirings by companies throughout the United States.

In addition, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports a slow increase in the number of jobs in computer systems design and programming from April through June. Preliminary numbers show there were 1,115,500 jobs in that area in June, up from 1,103,500 listed in April, according to Karen Kuhns, an economist in the bureau.

And that's good news since back in April the agency reported that the tech field was still loosing jobs -- it just wasn't loosing them as fast as it had been. After several years of staggering job losses and a dramatic increase in offshoring of high-tech jobs, a slow in the decline was heralded as a positive turn -- even if the long-awaited increase in hiring had not appeared yet.

The last three or four years have been tough ones for the high-tech industry, which had driven the U.S. economy in the late '90s. High-paying jobs were there for the picking. Companies struggled to retain their tech workers by offering huge bonuses, buckets of stock options, and flexible hours. Even old company dress codes were thrown out the window to keep the black t-shirt and pony tail crowd happy.

Then the dot-com bubble burst at the turn of the century. Once a job sector with hundreds of thousands, if not millions, more jobs than there were trained people to fill them, the industry was transformed by sweeping layoffs and plummeting stocks. Impressive expense accounts, million-dollar homes and flashy cars were replaced with unemployment lines, retraining and repossessed possessions.

In 2002, the tech sector was losing an average of 20,000 jobs a month.

While the creation of 13,500 high-tech jobs in the last two months isn't huge, it definitely is a step in the right direction.

And while that is good news for tech professionals, Challenger warns that they shouldn't get too excited and expect a large increase in wages to go along with the upturn in hiring. Pay rates from the dot-com era still are way behind us.

''Wages are still settling some,'' Challenger says.

Turner agrees that the employment environment for IT workers has changed, adding that employees are no longer ''calling the shots''.

''Now it's not so cool to say, 'I've worked for a dot-com company'. Now, you have to prove yourself,'' he says. ''Control has definitely shifted toward the employer who is taking more time to get exactly the right person for the job.

''Two or three years ago, people in IT could go into a job interview in ripped jeans and a Metallica t-shirt with no experience and ask for $70,000,'' Turner adds. ''Now, employers say, 'Sit up straight, wear khakis, get to work and I'll pay you $45,000'.''

A recent survey shows that jobs requiring advanced skills are seeing the best salary increases. That means help desk and programming jobs, which also are suffering from offshoring, are still harder to come by and bring smaller paychecks.

Turner notes that most of the companies posting ads on his Web site for network security personnel, or SQL database systems experts and security project managers now are looking for applicants with an average of three to five years of experience. And when they need project managers, they're looking for workers with business, financial or management experience as well.

In addition, Turner says many IT workers are revamping their resumes, getting specialized training and certifications. By ''taking their resumes up a notch'' they're becoming more competitive in this tough job market.

And while some say workers are leaving the IT field to search for jobs elsewhere, Turner contends that impressive numbers of college graduates are still entering the technical job market. Today's college grads, though, The difference, he said, is that todays grads are more aware of the need for certifications and specialized training.

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