Computer Jobs Hit Record High

The size of the IT workforce in the United States has topped 4 million workers for the first time last quarter, according to CIO Insight‘s analysis of U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data. And the number of employed IT pros reached 3,956,000 in the second quarter of 2008, also a record high.

The IT unemployment rate inched up one-tenth of a percentage point last quarter to 2.3 percent, but still hovers near historic lows. That’s in contrast to overall unemployment, which last quarter stood at 4.7 percent, more than double the IT jobless rate. (In June, overall unemployment stood at 5.5 percent for the second consecutive month, after shedding 62,000 jobs that month. Comparable numbers aren’t available for computer-related occupations.)

Why would IT employment remain robust as unemployment rises in most other job categories? IT performs a critical role in business productivity, and the efficiencies it brings are crucial for employers looking to trim costs–including payrolls–as fuel and related expenditures soar and the economy and dollar weakens. In addition, companies today cannot operate without functioning IT systems, so certain business technology skills cannot be eliminated if a company wants to remain competitive.

A year earlier, the IT unemployment rate stood at 2.1 percent, with 3,599,000 workers employed in IT and 77,000 jobless and looking for positions in the field, for an IT workforce size of 3,675,000.

With 4,050,000 managers, professionals and other staffers holding or seeking computer-related positions last quarter, the IT workforce has grown by 10.2 percent over the past four quarters.

Another sign of a strong IT economy: the number of workers employed by IT services firms rose by 56,100 this past year to 1,414,400, a 4.1 percent increase, according to last month’s BLS establishment survey of some 160,000 businesses and government agencies covering about 400,000 worksites. The active sample includes about one-third of all nonfarm payroll workers.

The increase in IT services employment reflects the continuing need by companies for outsourcers to manage corporate IT infrastructures as well as provide hard-to-find but needed skills to develop and support new applications and systems.

Not every person employed by IT services firms–officially labeled by the government as computer systems design and related services–is an IT pro, but a majority are. A 2006 government report estimates that 53 percent of IT services firms’ workers hold IT jobs such as programmers; software engineers; computer, network systems and data communications analysts; or database, network and systems administrators. Another 3 percent are computer and IS managers. The remaining employees–44 percent of payrolls–encompass non-IT managers and administrative and operational support personnel, including those in finance, human resources and sales.

Besides the establishment survey, the government also queries 60,000 households to determine employment and unemployment in the U.S. For our analysis, we use a BLS quarterly report that aggregates the monthly reports and details employment in hundreds of occupation categories. The government tracks seven major computer-related job categories: computer scientists and systems analysts, computer programmers, computer software engineers, computer support specialists, database administrators, network and computer systems administrators and network systems and data communications specialists plus computer and information systems managers.

CIO Insight analyzes these eight occupation categories to determine current IT employment conditions. Because these IT professions comprises less than 3 percent of the overall workforce, and each occupation category’s size on its own would be statistically unreliable, CIO Insight aggregates the last four quarters to determine each quarter’s workforce, employment and unemployment levels. For example, we added BLS data from the last two quarters of 2007 and the first two quarters of 2008 then divided by four to determine second-quarter 2008 data. Statisticians and economists say aggregating four quarters worth of data makes them more statically reliable than just using one quarter’s worth of data.

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