Job market settles, but future remains uncertain

The latest data suggest that the tech hiring slump in the US bottomed out during the second quarter of 2002. However, experts say, there's no evidence that hiring will rebound in the near future.

          The latest data suggest that the tech hiring slump in the US bottomed out during the second quarter of 2002. However, experts say, there's no evidence that hiring will rebound in the near future.

          According to the latest Information Technology Association of America (ITAA) survey of 300 IT hiring managers, the total IT job market in the United States gained 147,000 jobs in the third quarter of 2002 (359,000 hires versus 211,000 dismissals), bringing the number of US IT workers to 10.1 million (up from 9.9 million in January 2002). From October 2001 to October 2002, 844,000 IT workers lost their jobs. That's a 68% decrease in dismissals over the year ending January 2002 when 2.6 million IT workers were let go.

          "We're hoping that this indicates that we've at least hit bottom and we're not seeing any major unemployment in the IT workforce going forward," says ITAA president Harris Miller.

          According to the survey, tech support workers represented 42% of hires (152,000 jobs) during the quarter. The number of network administrators dropped 8.5% from January 2002 through September 2002. Over that same period, web developers climbed 5.4% and database developers grew 5.3%.

          Miller says that while IT hiring managers are taking a positive outlook on 2003, the economy still matters, and he doesn't expect major gains for at least the first half of 2003. The key, he says, is the continued growth of IT jobs in traditional industries such as financial services and pharmaceuticals.

          Scott Melland, CEO of IT job board Dice.com, says that 2003 will be a year of modest growth. He expects the numbers to improve in January 2003 because of a seasonal, post-holiday uptick, but the numbers won't change much over the next several months. "Industrywide, we're waiting for the catalyst that really drives growth," Melland says.

          Melland says IT workers with "nuts and bolts" skills -- Oracle database programmers, C++ and Java programmers as well as NT experts -- are most in demand. He believes that there are good opportunities for workers with network security skills and certifications, as well as for IT experts who have security clearance to work with government contractors.

          The ITAA's Miller says IT workers who are currently unemployed should use the time to acquire new skills.

          "They have to be more flexible about their wages, their segment of industry and where they live," Miller says. "They should be prepared for constant change. The idea of lifetime employment is a relic."

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