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Article Title: "U.S. Tech Jobs Back On Track "
Section: Internet & Technology 
Date: 3/30/2006 

Early this decade, in the dot-com collapse and as offshoring gained steam, U.S. tech jobs disappeared. Federal data show in the worst year, 105,000 jobs vanished. Trade associations using wider definitions of tech work have estimated far higher losses.

But the U.S. tech job outlook is looking up. Recent studies point to sustained growth. And lagging computer science interest among students could even lead to worker shortages down the road.

Analysts say tech hiring is on the rise, as businesses expand and fortify their IT (information technology) staffs.

Signs of life emerged from a survey this month by recruiting and consulting group Robert Half Technology, a unit of Robert Half International. It found that 12% of firms plan to expand their IT departments in the second quarter of the year, vs. just 4% planning cuts.

"Companies have hired in finance, information technology, administration, sales - you name it - over the last six months to a year," said Jeff Markham, Robert Half Technology's Northern California division director. "That causes demand for tech workers."

Retail Tech Is Hot

Tech job growth expectations are highest among big companies, and retail companies especially seem to be looking for tech staff to manage tech upgrades.

"Retailers shelved a lot of IT projects during the recession," Markham said. "They're taking some projects that were on the shelf off the shelf."

Tech systems dealing with CRM, or customer relationship management, and with business intelligence seem to be most in demand among retailers, he says.

The retail projects focus on improving customer contact, knowledge of buying patterns and efficiency.

Placement firm Yoh says demand for tech workers is on the rise. Hot spots include security, ERP (enterprise resource planning) and health care technology.

"After tech markets fell off significantly in 2001 and 2002, there's been a steady regrowth," said Jim Lanzalotto, Yoh's vice president of strategy and marketing. "At the end of last year and the beginning of this year, growth has been strong but not hyperactive like in the late 1990s."

The average hourly rate for skilled tech professionals rose to $30.27 early in the fourth quarter of 2005, according to Yoh. Wages that quarter rose 3.1% on average from the fourth-quarter 2004.

The number of tech jobs in the U.S. approached 3.18 million by November 2004, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) data for a narrow band of categories that cover computer science and engineering-related jobs.

Annual U.S. job loss due to offshoring, when work is sent to India or other countries, is about 2%-3% of the IT work force. But that is small compared with the much higher level of job loss and creation that happens yearly within the U.S., notes a study on software offshoring by a task force of the Association for Computing Machinery.

The tech industry group maintains career opportunities in tech should stay strong in countries where they've been strong in the past.

U.S. IT employment peaked around 2000 at 2.99 million workers, according to the BLS.

Several Causes Of Crash

Besides the dot-com crash, employment fell because of the telecom crash caused largely by overbuilding and by the falloff after Y2K. Companies had gone through a hiring binge in the late 1990s as companies prepared computers for the change in dates from the 1900s to the 2000s. So says ACM study co-chair Moshe Vardi, a Rice University computer science professor.

"We had essentially an almost perfect storm in terms of jobs - and then there were job losses," he said. "We found IT turned around by late 2002."

Vardi says few have forgotten the tech crash. Back in 2000 nearly 4% of college freshmen planned to major in computer science. By 2004, only 1.5% wanted to. Students stopped viewing it as a great career field, Vardi says.

"Their answer is, 'There's no future in IT - it's all going to be offshore,' " Vardi said. "We're seeing a very dramatic disconnect between perception and reality."

Meanwhile, this year's 1.4 million college graduates are likely to enjoy the best entry-level job market since the dot-com crash, says outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas. Students with degrees in computer science and engineering are in demand, Challenger says. 


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