Thursday, March 10, 2011

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Bleak IT Jobs Picture Points to Education Necessity

Dim news of the U.S. unemployment situation seems inescapable. The official unemployment rate stands at 9.5 percent. Despite trillions (with a big T) of dollars spent on stimulus programs, the sluggishly recovering recession isn't doing much to spur jobs creation.

Comparatively speaking, the tech sector's unemployment rate – roughly 6 percent – isn't bad. During the depths of the recession, IT vendors shed tens of thousands of workers, and solution providers eliminated jobs as spending grounded to a halt. While IT spending is slowly climbing out of the recession doldrums, jobs are not following suit.

Surprisingly however, many U.S. companies reporting difficulty in finding the right skilled technology people for more than 600,000 jobs. Despite recruitment and best efforts to market these positions, they simply cannot hire people who meet their requirements and expectations.

The New York Times concluded that the culprit is widespread commoditization. Programming, research and development, manufacturing, and even technical support were once skills that provided specialists with high-paying jobs and endless possibilities. No more. These skills are held by people around the world who are able to crank out products and projects with high quality at a lower price. As a result, U.S. companies are shipping more of these traditional, intellectual jobs overseas to China, India and other emerging economies, and are performing fewer here at home.

Under this cloud, many technologists and IT industry veterans are defecting to other industries that either have growth potential or – at the very least – stability. If a job can't be outsourced to Bangladesh, it's probably a safe bet. But don't be so sure about that. Health care is seemingly providing one of these safe havens, since patient care is expressly a local business. But as technology adoption increases, physicians and care providers will be able to conduct exams, administer treatments and monitor progress at long distances through the magic of telepresence.

Does all this signal doom and gloom for those in the IT industry? That depends.

First, The New York Times report centered mostly on large enterprise and IT vendors. Large firms have an easier time shipping jobs overseas and automating systems. Larger organizations also have an easier time shifting responsibilities on diminished workforces and contracting temporary or consulting help for their IT efforts.

For small businesses, however, the picture is somewhat mixed, they are actually seeing either a neutral or growth in jobs. According to the recent CompTIA IT Industry Business Confidence Index, 37 percent of IT businesses plan to add new jobs over the next six months. The forecast was made in anticipation of increased IT spending among all businesses to refresh aging IT infrastructure and adopt new automation technologies. And it's not like IT businesses are sitting idly. CompTIA research reveals that nearly half of those businesses not hiring say they would add jobs if it facilitated or resulted in new business and growth.

What all this adds up to is one conclusion: Anyone who is sitting idling by as the world and technology evolves is destined for the scrap heap of humanity known as the permanently disenfranchised. But that's a choice, not a certainty. While many among the unemployed say they've kept their skills up through education, they actually have just kept their core skills fresh. Many didn't branch out into new complementary certifications, such as Voice over IP Telephony networking or wireless or security training. Likewise, IT companies need to hone their skills in new markets and opportunities, such as healthcare IT, creating greener offices (and saving money and energy) by moving toward less paper and more digital record keeping known as document imaging management, and integrated communications like VOIP and Video. Plus social networking marketing training.

A dollar spent today may just assure that dollars will keep flowing into the future.