U.S. IT jobs may never return

2003

IT jobs in the USA are being hard hit by the growing tide of outsourcing and the continuing employment of overseas IT staff despite the downturn.

The IT Workforce Data Project, carried out by the Commission on Professionals in Science and Technology (CPST), paints a picture of a sector under pressure from changes in outsourcing, immigration, higher education, and employment patterns.

Employment in IT has been declining since reaching peak levels in 2000. In 1999, the unemployment level in the US IT sector stood at just 1.9 per cent. In the first two quarters of 2003, this had shot up to an average of 5.9 per cent.

While CPST acknowledges that IT jobs have been hit by the poor overall health of the US economy, outsourcing and immigration have also taken a major toll.

Over the past ten years, it says, the proportion of foreign-born IT workers in the US has doubled from about a tenth of the labour force in 1994 to over a fifth of 2001.

Immigrants in the IT workforce are also both younger and better educated than their US counterparts – more than four out of ten immigrants had graduate degrees, compared with just over one in six Americans in the IT workforce.

Meanwhile, the value of outsourcing deals has quadrupled from $300 million in 1995 to more than $1.2 billion in 2001.

Exacerbating this situation is pressure from the supply-side. The number of IT graduates taking computer science has jumped 40 per cent over recent years, with the 2001-2002 academic year seeing record numbers of students achieving degrees in IT disciplines.

According to Richard Ellis, principal investigator for the research, there is a very real prospect that the supply of IT professionals in the US will simply outstrip demand in future.

"Many reports are bullish on prospects for careers in core IT data professions, but the views of workers are not so sanguine,” he said.

"The data suggest that the problem isn't that the supply of technical talent in the United States is insufficient, but rather that there are insufficient incentives for able people to choose scientific and technical careers."