Despite recession, it's still a good time to be in IT

May is the fourth month in a row that the US economy has lost jobs, but growth is still evident

April's US Bureau of Labor Statistics report on unemployment suggests that the lackluster economy may be on the upswing. Although jobs fell by 20,000 and the unemployment rate dipped to 5 per cent, those figures were much lower than expected.

The fact remains that this is the fourth month in a row that the US economy has lost jobs, but growth is still evident. There is less than a 2 per cent unemployment rate in engineering and other tech sectors. And Yoh's recent quarterly Index of Technology Wages revealed that wages hit an all-time high in 2007 and are only beginning to slow somewhat in 2008.

Unemployment rates for those with some of the hottest tech skills -- including computer software engineers, computer programmers, network and computer systems administrators and analysts, and computer scientists and systems analysts -- were each below 3 per cent in 2007. Meanwhile, computer and information systems managers saw an unemployment rate of 1.3 per cent, and the unemployment rate for database administrators sat at just 0.4 per cent.

Will history repeat itself?

Many industry experts are comparing the current economic slowdown with the burst of the dot-com bubble at the start of the century. However, there are two major differences.

The first is the attitude of businesses. The wild-eyed optimism and overspending on projects that had little market viability have waned.

Second is the geopolitical impact of the September 11 terrorist attacks, which eventually led to a slowdown in overall spending.

This time around, customer demand is still strong, project backlogs are still full, and there are no signs that works in progress will be abandoned.

The market is murky and in flux, but where there is strength in the market, there is a great deal of opportunity. Expect to see the most opportunity in SAP, project management and security, and for those who work directly on customer-related projects.

Some of the areas that will be weaker for the next few months include jobs that can be offshored or those that are not strategic to overall business objectives.

Staying relevant

If you're currently looking for a job, you may find that managers are taking longer to fill open higher-end positions. On average, companies that are aggressive in hiring may take 20 to 25 days to fill open positions.

The reason for this is twofold: Managers aren't finding workers with the level of skills they need, and employers are being more conservative with resources than in the past. They're spending more time evaluating candidates to determine whether they will have a significant impact on the company's bottom line.

Even if you're not looking for a new job, it's important to make yourself indispensable. As businesses heed the economic indicators and warnings they're receiving, many will look to tighten their belts, and some may do so by letting go of staffers.

Technology workers in the job hunt should zero in on how their skills can help businesses be more profitable, better serve their customers and improve efficiencies during a softening economy. While the overall market outlook is weakening, it is still a great time to be in the technology sector as employers leverage their IT talent to add value to the business.

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Jim Lanzalotto

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