IT Services Employment Shines in Gloomy Economy

As the overall economy lost 159,000 nonfarm jobs in September, IT services companies saw their payrolls grow by 8,500, according to a Bureau of Labor Statistics employment report issued Friday.

Employment growth in the so-called computer systems design and related services sector suggests companies are turning to IT services firms to keep their business technology running, even as they trim their own payrolls, perhaps including their own IT staffs. With credit tight, some companies might not be able to borrow money to upgrade their IT infrastructure, so they’ll turn to IT services companies as a short-term solution to meet their business-technology demands.

In the past year, IT services firms increased their payrolls by 58,800. By comparison, overall nonfarm payrolls rose by a meager 0.4 percent from September 2007 to September 2008 compared with a 4.3 percent increase among IT services firms. Yet, year-to-year growth in hiring at IT services firms has slowed a bit in 2008. IT services firms increased payrolls by 5.3 percent in September 2007 and 8.7 percent in September 2008.

Still, IT services remains one of the strongest and most consistent employment sectors in the economy. In September, IT services firms employed 1,434,300 people. IT professionals represent 61.5 percent of those employed by these firms, according to a 2006 Labor Statistics study. Managers (some of whom could be IT pros) comprise nearly 17 percent of the sector’s employed workers. The remaining workers held jobs in sales; office and administrative support; and installation, maintenance and repair.

Among professional and business services businesses, only management and (non-IT) technical consulting saw a greater increase in payrolls last month, gaining 8,800 workers.

Figures for August and September 2008 are preliminary. The government arrives at its payroll numbers by surveying each month about 160,000 businesses and government agencies covering some 400,000 individual worksites. The active sample includes about one-third of all nonfarm payroll workers.

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