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US IT workforce demand lowest in four years

Hiring projections for IT workers in the US during the next year are the lowest since 2000, and more than a tenth of IT companies are looking at moving IT jobs to countries with cheaper labour, according to a survey released by the Information Technology Association of America.

The only sliver of good news in the study is that the total number of IT jobs in the US seems to have leveled off, with the number of IT layoffs no longer outpacing the new IT hires projected in the survey.

The ITAA study, based on a survey of 400 US hiring managers at both IT and non-IT companies, predicted that US companies will fill 493,431 IT jobs in the next 12 months, compared with projections of 1.1 million jobs in last year's survey and 1.6 million in 2000.

The projections do not measure predictions of layoffs and unfilled open positions when projecting the number of IT hires, so the net job growth in the US IT industry will be lower.

"The good news is that it looks like we've hit bottom finally," said Harris Miller, president of the ITAA.

"The companies have rightsized about as far down as they're going to rightsize. That's not to say we're going to suddenly see a dramatic upward spike. I don't think that's likely to happen, but I do think that there are some indications out there that CIOs are starting to get a little bit of permission from their CFOs and CEOs to start spending a little bit of money again."

The US began 2003 with 10.3 million IT workers, up 4.2% from the start of 2002, but up less than 1% from the last quarter of 2002. The IT workforce appears to have bottomed out at just under 10 million jobs at the start of 2002, after 500,000 IT job layoffs in the US in 2001.

Sixty-seven percent of the hiring managers surveyed said they thought hiring demand would stay the same or decline over the next year.

ITAA began its workforce study in 1997, but started using new methodology in 2000. The number of projected hires is the lowest since the association began using that new methodology, but Miller also called the number a historic low.

The message to IT workers is that the skills expectation bar has been raised "not by inches, but by several feet," said Clare Dolan, senior director of educational initiatives for Oracle, one of the sponsors of the ITAA study.

"Because of the competitiveness, you need to be learning daily," she added.

When asked about moving IT jobs outside of the US, 6% of all firms said they already have, including 22% of IT companies with 1,000 or more employees. Fifteen percent of IT firms say they will or might move IT jobs out of the US in the next year.

The jobs most likely to be moved are programming/software engineering, followed by network design and web development.

According to the ITAA, the US has 2.1 million programming jobs, 1.9 million technical support jobs, and 1.1 million enterprise systems jobs, the three most common IT jobs on the ITAA's list.

In a separate study,  the ITAA found that women and racial minorities made little progress into high tech employment between 1996 and 2002.

Based on statistics from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, the percentage of women in the US IT workforce fell from 41% to 34.9 % in those six years, and the percentage of African Americans fell from 9.1% to 8.2%.

However, when administrative positions were removed from the numbers, the percentages of both groups rose slightly.

The percentage of Hispanic Americans, Native Americans and Asian Americans in the U. IT workforce grew over six years, according to the ITAA. Hispanic IT workers went from 5.4% to 6.3%, Native Americans from 0.2% to 0.6% and Asian Americans from 8.9% to 11.8% between 1996 to 2002.


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