IT professionals: Read this before you dust off your resume. A report in yesterday’s Wall Street Journal probably got you super bummed about your career choice. I don’t blame you: The report stated unequivocally that American firms had shed 88,000 information technology (IT)-related jobs last month. “Where were the jobs going?” you likely asked. “Why had IT-related jobs decreased when overall US employment held steady?” I’ll throw one more at you: As technology becomes more ingrained in our everyday lives, how is it even remotely possible that tech-related positions are being eliminated?
We can draw a few plausible conclusions from the article. First, “US employers are grappling with tighter budgets” as the Wall Street Journal states. Second, jobs are being outsourced to Eastern Europe and India. And third, we’re headed for the next recession.
All of those conclusions are believable. Unfortunately for the Wall Street Journal and anyone who decided to quit their IT job after reading the report, the information in the article (and the survey the article sources) doesn’t accurately or even reasonably portray the current state of IT employment at all.
The Real Deal
The data cited by the Wall Street Journal was compiled by the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) and nonprofit trade association CompTIA. The survey tracks only the most traditional (and narrow) definition of IT jobs. For example, jobs at IT services companies are counted in the survey, as are titles such as software developer, computer systems engineer, or any job that falls directly under a company’s IT department’s purview. But that’s all.
The total number of IT jobs tallied in the report is 4,392,800. Seems a little short, doesn’t it? That’s because the survey doesn’t include any technology worker who falls under the purview of other departments or workers at technology-related startups that aren’t specifically IT-services related.
For example, if your DevOps engineer was hired to oversee your company’s customer relationship management (CRM) and social listening software deployments and, as a result, he or she reports to the Chief Marketing Officer (CMO), he or she was not included in the BLS report. Did you go to high school with a someone whose company made a ton of money developing an adultery-based dating app? Unfortunately, he or she is not counted in the report nor are the company’s employees or employees at Uber who made it possible for the cheaters to get to and from their dates.
“The BLS has a narrow definition of what an IT professional is,” said David Foote, cofounder and CEO of IT labor research firm Foote Partners. “There’s not a lot of agreement in the marketplace about what an IT pro is; the BLS is looking at a small portion.”
Foote said the report only takes into account about 26 professions, all of which fall directly under IT services companies and IT-specific occupations (i.e., someone who reports to the CIO). In fact, Foote argues that the report is not only misleading about the definition of an IT professional but it also misrepresents the state of IT employment in general.
“We see aggressive IT hiring that you won’t see in the BLS reports,” he explained. “These workers might do web search engine optimization (SEO), but that person’s job reports into the marketing department. If you’re talking about all of the tech professional jobs in our country, we estimate there are between 25 and 30 million of these jobs.”
So, what does the state of IT employment look like if you view it through Foote’s lens? “You can see a net increase of 11,200 jobs [in July],” he said.
What’s the BLS’s Problem?
Tim Herbert is Senior Vice President of Research and Market Intelligence at CompTIA, which helped the BLS compile the data cited in the Wall Street Journal. Herbert said the BLS is aware of the distinction between “IT professional” as it defines the classification and “general technology worker” as Foote (and most everyone else in the world) would define it. Herbert, who is cited in the Wall Street Journal piece, told PCMag that the BLS welcomes and solicits comments from the industry to help refine how the reports are conducted. However, he also said the challenge is that planning reports of this magnitude take roughly five years. Plus, the lag between what’s decided and what’s reported is incredibly long.
That makes sense. But if this report (and its narrow classification of what an IT job is) was planned five years ago, that means it pre-dates Lyft, Periscope, and Snapchat, among many other amazing technology products and companies that have changed the world (and helped to employ many Americans).
“The macro trend is toward a greater reliance on tech across all industry sectors and all facets of business,” Herbert said. “The monthly data will always have volatility. You don’t want to read too much into a month’s data; you want to look at it annually.”
Okay, so even within the narrow scope of what the BLS defines as an IT professional, what should we expect the overall employment landscape to look like at the end of 2016, according to Herbert?
“Most expectations are a 3 percent increase at the end of the year,” he said. “And when you look at the wages compared to most other industries, there’s a lot to be said for working in the tech sector.”