IT Job Market Improving? Maybe Yes, Maybe No

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IT Job Market Improving? Maybe Yes, Maybe NoIT Job Market Improving? Maybe Yes, Maybe NoImproving business confidence means fewer layoffs in the future for IT, and increasing business investments in IT jobs and infrastructure. But it’s not yet time for IT pros to celebrate.

Last week, TechRepublic published an article entitled “IT Job Cuts: Is the end finally in sight?” (by Toby Wolpe, dated 3/12/2013). In that story, they report on the results of a survey from ReThink Recruitment, a UK-based recruiting and placement firm. Here’s the bare-bones version of their survey results:

“Only one IT director in 10 is expecting to prune jobs in 2013, half 2012’s number…” where the reduction in cuts stems from IT staffing already having reached minimum levels. ReThink’s director, Michael Bennett, is quoted in the story as saying that banks and retail operations are still stuggling, but also that IT has “… been a relatively safe place to be in the last five years.” He also sees technology-driven investments – presumably, also including IT – as important to ongoing business activity and success.

The survey gets interesting when it delves into headcount growth projections: according to the survey, nearly half (46%) of IT directors expect to see increases in headcount for 2013, in contrast to just over one in three (36%) for 2011. As is so often the case these days, modest growth is cited as “grounds for cautious optimism” where IT is concerned. There’s also this important point to ponder straight from Bennett himself: “Because IT is core to business, those working in the sector tend to feel the immediate benefit of any increase in business confidence.” Mr Bennett expands on this observation to add: “As soon as business leaders start feeling a bit more confident, the trickle-down effect does usually impact It in a healthy way.”

Time to Climb the IT Career Ladder?Time to Climb the IT Career Ladder?If you check my once-a-month (or better) jobs-and-economy-oriented blog posts over at the IT Career JumpStart (here’s my latest offering on the February jobs numbers from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics), you’ll see I’ve been chanting the following mantra to IT professionals since 2008, in response to our recent low-growth/no-growth circumstances: “Hunker down. Stay put. Be calm.” When I hear seasoned employment professionals like Bennett talk about “cautious optimism” that tells me that perhaps we are indeed advancing from a no-growth phase into a steadier slow-growth phase. But it also means that the business recovery remains fragile (or perhaps I should say “less than robust”) as well, which of course is why Bennett urges caution to go along with the optimism. And with a sequester and a big deficit in the USA, banking troubles and high unemployment in the EU, slowing growth in China, and who knows what else that might not yet be on the economic radar, caution remains the watchword of the day.

All that said, if you’ve been thinking about looking around the job market to make a move or find advancement in IT, it looks like conditions are becoming ever so slightly more favorable to personal growth opportunities in the field for those who already work in the IT patch. And of course, any uptick in business confidence usually does mean an uptick for IT as well, just as Mr. Bennett says, so new entrants into IT – be they recent or coming graduates, and career changers – should find themselves competing in a slightly less cut-throat (and perhaps even somewhat welcoming) job search environment.

If the ongoing recovery continues to build some momentum (and recent events do give cause for some cheer – see my blog from last Friday “Beware! The Good News Is Upon Us…” – even if it’s not yet time to start playing “Happy Days Are Here Again!”) the general IT outlook could become even more bullish. Right now, I have to believe that those who have specialized high-demand expertise (such as information security, cloud computing, virtualization, and so forth) are in a pretty good position to test their mettle on the job market. Those who lack such specialized skills may find some opportunities, but methinks confidence must ratchet up a few more notches before the overall IT job market truly heats up.

At any rate, I’m not yet willing to scrap my mantra for IT professionals. As 2013 wears on, and the prospects for 2014 start to come into focus, I may have to revisit that decision. But for the time being, and the next 4-6 months, it still looks pretty sensible to me. A slight improvement is better than no improvement (or any kind of decline), but it’s important to understand that slight improvements are also easy to reverse.

Ed TittelEd Tittel

Ed Tittel is a 30-year-plus veteran of the computing industry, who’s worked as a programmer, a technical manager, a classroom instructor, a network consultant and a technical evangelist for companies that include Burroughs, Schlumberger, Novell, IBM/Tivoli and NetQoS. He has written and blogged for numerous publications, including Tom's Hardware, and is the author of over 140 computing books with a special emphasis on information security, Web markup languages and development tools, and Windows operating systems.

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