Little Clarity on IT Job Market


by Tony Kontzer

One of the things we're all quickly learning about a prolonged recession is that nothing is what it appears to be. Or maybe it is. The point is, none of us has any idea what to think.

Take the puddle of mud that is the IT employment landscape. There are so many confusing and contradictory pieces of information floating about that one can be forgiven for being completely unclear about the current state of the IT job market.

For example, there's the recent IT employment numbers out of the National Association of Computer Consultant Businesses, which sent an array of mixed messages. According to the NACCB's March survey, more than 31,000 U.S. IT jobs, or 1.79 percent of the total IT workforce, were lost in March, which is bad. But that's much better than December and January, when 56,000 and 48,000 IT jobs were lost, respectively. Then again, it's much worse than the 14,000 IT jobs lost in January. And the 1.79 percent drop in IT employment since last March is the biggest year-over-year decline in some time. But hey, it's nowhere near as bad as the 3.48 percent of the total U.S. workforce that's been cut during the same period. Oy, my head hurts just thinking about all the bad and not-so-bad one can glean from a set of numbers.

Things are no clearer in other countries. Take this report from the U.K.'s Women in Technology, which argues that the critical ongoing role of information security is helping to keep European IT employment rates relatively stable. Yet just a few days earlier, Ericka Chickowski shared her concerns over poor attendance at last week's RSA Conference, a development that would seem to indicate that a) less money is being spent on IT security products, and b) there are fewer IT professionals milling about at trade shows. Is it that there's so much more IT security activity in Europe than in the U.S.? Not likely.

Elsewhere in the U.K., eWeek Europe is reporting that the latest research from the government-backed e-skills UK indicates that the global IT employment picture isn't as bleak as we've been led to believe, and that it's nowhere near as bad as during the dot-com bust, but that fidgety IT pros ought not leave their jobs just now. That should fill the hearts of IT workers everywhere with limitless confidence.

Meanwhile, Thailand's The Nation reports that demand for IT workers there will drop anywhere from 3 percent to 40 percent this year, a huge range that really provides IT job-seekers, and the executives seeking them, with no real sense of what they're facing. Are there IT jobs to be had in Thailand or not? Only the shadow knows! (To be fair, the piece does offer up that those with Java, .Net and ERP-related experience are coveted.)

Despite the seeming confusion over whether the IT job market truly is bleak, or just a bit languid, there are a few assumptions currently employed IT pros fretting over their futures can feel safe in making:

1) The IT job market may or may not be a desolate wasteland.

2) Things may or may not get better any time soon.

3) Your job may or may not be safe, but you better stay put, unless you really want to leave, in which case there may or may not be demand for your services.

There, I'm glad I could clear things up.