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Study: Meager recovery for IT job market

IT employment in the United States rose 2 percent in the first quarter, but demand for IT workers continues to drop.

The number of U.S. information technology workers rose 2 percent, to 10.5 million, in the first quarter of this year, but demand is dropping, according to a new report.

The United States gained a net total of 213,639 IT jobs between the first quarter of 2003 and the first quarter of this year, according to the Information Technology Association of America study released Wednesday.

But hiring managers have less ambitious plans for filling posts this year, the report said. Managers indicated that they will seek to fill about 230,000 jobs this year, compared with almost 500,000 last year, according to the report. The study surveyed 500 hiring managers from IT and non-IT companies nationwide.

"This is still not the job market America's IT workers have been hoping for," said a statement from ITAA President Harris Miller. "Instead, increased competition appears to be the rule for 2004, here and abroad."

ITAA said employers appear to be taking an increasingly cautious approach to hiring in light of factors including general economic conditions, the climbing cost of employee benefits and the economic efficiencies of sending work to lower-cost nations, frequently called offshoring.

The report comes amid conflicting information about the job scene for technology professionals. Unemployment rates have dropped for tech workers, but so have the numbers of people employed in tech occupations--suggesting that some workers may have left the field, possibly discouraged by grim forecasts or a lack of current jobs.

A monthly survey, though, has found that confidence among IT workers in the job market has been growing gradually.

ITAA said nearly 89 percent of new jobs came from non-IT companies, despite popular fears over mass job loss to outsourcing and globalization. Earlier this year, a study sponsored by ITAA found that offshoring IT work is good for the U.S. economy and its workers. By contrast, The U.S. wing of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers has blamed offshoring for contributing to high unemployment among U.S. tech workers, and warned that the trend threatens the country's technological leadership, economic vitality and military security.

Miller suggested IT workers take an active approach to keeping themselves marketable. "It's important that people not be passive," he said. "People have to take some responsibility for their education and training."

Companies in nontech industries, including banking, finance, manufacturing, food service and transportation accounted for 79 percent of the IT work force, according to the study.

Information security appears to be the area with the greatest IT job growth potential over the next three to five years, according to ITAA. The technical support and network system design categories saw the largest year-to-year increases in employment, up 5 percent.