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The American job market seems to see no end to the gloom. Following on the footsteps of the President’s call for jobs, Bank of America announced a plan to lay off tens of thousands of workers.
The mood didn’t improve following this month’s Department of Labor (DOL) report, which noted no gain in jobs overall last month, 9.1% national employment, as well as a rise in 'discouraged workers' – those who don’t see much hope on the horizon.
But there was some good news buried in the report. Perhaps surprisingly, things were better for IT workers, with 13,700 more jobs added in the Technical Services segment, the largest monthly increase since April 2011.
For those who have been unemployed in IT for some time, that may seem hard to believe. So what kind of jobs are these, where are they located and what areas of IT are ‘hot’ right now?
Looking at the big picture, the DOL numbers showed a net gain of 13,700 IT services sector jobs in August. That’s the fifteenth consecutive gain reported in these monthly statistics. These jobs, though, highlight a changing pattern within the IT industry.
“There is a continuing shifting of the more traditional infrastructure-type IT hiring to the services industries by employers who are choosing to source more of these jobs externally,” said David Foote, CEO of Foote Partners, an independent IT workforce benchmark research and industry advisory firm.
Looking more deeply into the DOL report, hiring seems to be taking place in the following areas:
In the Management and Technical Consulting Services category, 6,000 new jobs were added. Those who have some management or project implementation experience, therefore, could parlay those skills to move beyond traditional data center or internal IT positions to seek out openings in this sector.
One former SAP specialist in a multinational financial firm, for instance, landed as a traveling consultant for a major IT services firm. He consults clients on how best to implement SAP in their own facilities. Others with writing or analytics skills have unearthed openings in IT analyst/consulting firms.
Additionally, 7,700 jobs came in from the Computer Systems Design and Related Services segment last month. Foote notes that this area is showing strong growth – a total of 122,700 jobs have been added there over the past year. Those who have been involved in the design or internal systems, therefore, could find more interest from recruiters by talking up their systems design experience.
IT Job Gains and Losses
But while there are gains in some areas, there are losses in others. Foote pointed out that the DOL numbers reveal 47,300 jobs were lost in Telecommunications, and Data Processing, Hosting and Related Services.
Telecom workers shouldn’t panic. Foote called this “an aberration caused by a labor strike in the telecommunications industry that removed 45,000 workers from company payrolls during the August survey reference period.”
Long term, though, telecom is in very slight decline with around 2,708 fewer jobs per month on average over the last twelve months. It appears that now would be a good time for those in telecom to acquire additional skills to make themselves more valuable to employers.
“I don‘t think anyone should be surprised that skills acquisition, not recruiting full time people, has been the bigger focus in the past few years for employers managing pure-play IT resources,” said Foote.
Changing Job Picture
Overall, Foote observes a marked change in the dynamics of the North American IT job market. He sees a lot of work that used to be done internally now being farmed out to consultants and contractors, part-time employees, offshore vendors, managed service providers and cloud computing suppliers.
As a result, the revenue growth numbers in the services industries have been strong and the forecasts for continued expansion equally robust, he said.
That is impacting how IT personnel are being evaluated. The old days of a small subset of IT personnel among a vast sea of non-IT staff seem to be fading away. Instead, Foote said that IT skill sets are more and more becoming a necessary part of many jobs throughout the enterprise, not just those in the traditional IT organization.
And that’s where opportunity knocks.
“For many of these ‘new breed’ jobs, employers would rather hire full time workers than use consultants,” said Foote.
That, of course, has positive and negative implications. While more new breed jobs may crop up, the other side of coin is fewer of the traditional jobs inside IT silos. This trend, said Foote, has been building steam over a long period.
“It‘s not something that just began with the popularity of cloud computing, managed services, and this new wave of domestic outsourcing, although certainly the widespread acceptance of alternative skill sourcing has been a big factor in the acceleration of what has clearly been a trend visible in the federal employment reports over the past several months,” said Foote, whose company publishes detailed proprietary labor trend research reports.
Those seeking gainful employment, therefore, are advised to not simply look for “system admin” positions or only apply to be a DBA. Reason: IT functions are now filtering more and more down into the various departments, lines of business and product groups.
Rather than being IT-centric, these entities are business-centric and are looking to IT to make more money, increase profitability or heighten customer satisfaction.
Foote estimates that there are already 20 to 24 million hybrid IT/business employees in the U.S. workforce. This is in addition to 4 million traditional IT professionals, according to the DOL reports.
“All of this is feeding a corporate preoccupation with both skills acquisition and stimulating hiring of non-traditional IT professionals in a very big way, and the gap between supply and demand for skills has been extremely volatile,” said Foote.
Particularly hot areas, according to Foote Partners’ own surveys, are positions for those holding database certifications, which grew in overall market value by 2.6% in the last quarter due mainly to pay hikes for three Oracle certifications. Other skills categories that showed improvement are management, process skills, messaging/communications, SAP and enterprise business applications skills.
Those experiencing a decline in value included those holding only entry level certificates, web development, IT security (which has been a hot area for years), systems administration, applications development and programming and networking certifications.