IT Job Sector Continues to Strengthen: Report

Computer systems design leads IT tech sector job growth, while data processing jobs post a decline in January.

There was a net gain of 11,800 IT-related jobs in January-the eighth straight month of positive job growth in IT labor segments in federal employment data-according to employment numbers released Friday by the Department of Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Five bellwether IT job segments in BLS data had a net gain of 74,200 jobs in the last 12 months. Leading all segments in gains were management and technical consulting services and computer systems design and related services segments, which together accounted for nearly 95 percent of all new jobs created.

The worst performing segment was data processing, hosting and related services, which saw a decline of 1,900 jobs in January. In the last 12 months, there was a net loss of 6,600 jobs in this segment, 1,700 in the past two months alone, according to the report.

"This may seem pretty anemic for a specialized group of workers when you consider that the economy has added 827,000 jobs overall in the U.S. since March 2010," noted David Foote, CEO at IT analyst firm Foote Partners, which publishes proprietary national labor trend research. "But you have to understand that the government has defined 'IT professional' in the same narrow way for several decades: Just 21 job titles exist in the 2010 - 2011 edition of the Department of Labor's Occupational Outlook Handbook, and they're all traditional technical infrastructure jobs in systems analysis, programming, data communications and networks, tech support, and database administration."

Two IT job segments in the computer and electronic products industry category saw an increase in jobs in January 2011: communications equipment (+800 jobs) and computer and peripheral equipment (+700 jobs). In the past 12 months these segments have had net job gains of 6,500 and 3,900, respectively.

"Hiring of pure play tech workers is indeed sluggish and happening primarily in the services industries. But the truth is that the role of technology in the enterprise is now so pervasive that managing it is no longer entrusted to one group but instead split among every department, function, line of business and product group," Foote explained. "The job of each one of these entities is to determine how to make the best use of information technology for producing revenues and profitability, building market share, ensuring satisfied customers, controlling costs, innovating solutions, and generally to stay competitive in their industries."

Overall, the unemployment rate in the United States fell to 9 percent from 9.4 percent in December, as 36,000 jobs were added to payrolls, well below the 200,000 jobs needed to sustain growth in the economy by many economists' views. The share of the population over 16 years old either working or looking for work fell to 64.2 percent in January, the lowest level since 1984.

"Technology and business skills have in effect collapsed into each other, creating legions of what our firm refers to generically as hybrid IT/business professionals," Foote said. "These hybrid jobs can be found throughout the enterprise. We've been identifying and tracking them since 1995 and also surveying their salaries."