Career watch: Misleading government stats on IT employment

Q&A: David Foote

The CEO of IT workforce analyst firm Foote Partners says the IT workforce is larger than most of us realize.

You maintain that government statistics on IT employment are misleading. Could you explain? Well, statistics and misleading are two words that frequently appear together, and federal employment reports raising suspicions is nothing new, especially at the start and end of recessions. But the problem with IT employment statistics is more black-and-white.

It begins with the Labor Department's Standard Occupational Classification system, which was updated in 2010 but still defines IT much the same as back in the old pure-technology MIS departments -- administrators, engineers, programmers, developers, analysts, user support and various infrastructure specialists. All federal employment reports map to the SOC's ancient IT model, which means only a small portion of the modern IT professional workforce is actually identified and tracked in these reports -- barely 20 per cent, to be precise, and that's if you include tech consulting and temporary staffing jobs.

So the government doesn't see someone who oversees online security and social media development and reports to a business unit as an IT worker. Right. Nor does it properly identify and track 16 million other people in the U.S. who bring various blends of technology skills, subject matter expertise and business savvy to their jobs in corporate functions, departments, product groups, business lines and other areas. These are IT professionals in 2011. Let's face it: IT jobs and skills have been migrating outside the walls of the traditional IT department for years, from administrative to executive levels. Marketing specialists, sales engineers, business analysts, logistics experts and even vice presidents of operations can now show impressive IT résumés. The list goes on and on. You'd think the government would have heard of social media, mobile computing, data analytics, collaboration technology and ERP by now.

Why does the classification matter? It matters for two reasons. The traditional part of the IT workforce was hit pretty hard by the recession, spurring debate about whether IT is still a viable profession. But when you look at how great the other 80 per cent of IT professionals are doing, the notion of a jobless recovery or weakness in demand for IT skills and workers is utterly ridiculous.

The intensity of the debate is the other reason why we have to get this right. As the boomers start to retire in big numbers, we can't afford to let young workers coming into the workforce mistakenly think that there aren't enormous IT job and career opportunities available to them. The bottom line is that there's never been a better time in history to be starting or building an IT career than right now, nor one with as many entry points and options. Once you grasp the reality of how much the label "IT professional" has changed, it becomes pretty obvious.

Do you think the workers see themselves as hybrids? What matters more is that their employers do. Even traditional IT jobs have been reshuffled and substantially redefined, with new skill requirements and aptitudes piled on, even though many times the job titles have remained unchanged. It's driving HR departments crazy, especially compensation managers who have to figure out how to pay and reward these so-called IT-business hybrid workers competitively. These are high-impact contributors you can't afford to lose, and the market for them has been red-hot for a long time.

What does all this mean for employers? It's a daunting challenge for both the public and private sectors because the role of IT in the enterprise is so pervasive that managing it is now distributed throughout the enterprise. Each group has to determine how to make the best use of IT to produce revenues and profits, build or protect market share, provide services, ensure that customers remain satisfied, control costs, innovate solutions, and generally stay competitive.

This kind of pervasive IT is at odds with organizational structures and management habits and practices that have been in place for decades. There's resistance. There's also a skills acquisition feeding frenzy happening -- employers are frantically searching for people with unique combinations of knowledge, experience and skills. It's driving huge growth numbers in managed services, cloud computing, contractors, consultants and the entire services industry. At least the government got this one right: The jobs reports show more than 80,000 new jobs in the technical consulting services industry over the past 12 months.

State CIOs Face Hiring Challenges

In a report titled "State IT Workforce: Under Pressure," the National Association of State Chief Information Officers took a look at the staffing challenges facing CIOs of state governments. They include hiring freezes, looming retirements of baby boomers and a decrease in interest in public sector careers among younger people. The CIOs were also asked which specific skills present the greatest challenges when it comes to attracting and retaining IT employees.


Percentage of CIOs who said it poses a hiring and retention challenge



Project management


Application and mobile application development and support




Analysis and design


Networking support


Infrastructure/cloud computing


Web development/support


Mainframe support


Client/server development and support


Contract management


Disaster recovery/business continuity


Testing/quality assurance


Geospatial analysis


Web 2.0/social media development and support


Help desk and training


Join the PC World newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.

Tags Foote PartnerscareersIT management

Our Back to Business guide highlights the best products for you to boost your productivity at home, on the road, at the office, or in the classroom.

Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Jamie Eckle

Computerworld (US)
Show Comments

Cool Tech

D-Link PowerLine AV2 2000 Gigabit Network Kit

Learn more >

Crucial® BX200 SATA 2.5” 7mm (with 9.5mm adapter) Internal Solid State Drive

Learn more >

ASUS ROG Swift PG279Q – Reign beyond virtual world

Learn more >

D-Link TAIPAN AC3200 Ultra Wi-Fi Modem Router (DSL-4320L)

Learn more >

Lexar® Professional 1000x microSDHC™/microSDXC™ UHS-II cards

Learn more >

Xiro Drone Xplorer V -3 Axis Gimbal & 1080p Full HD 14MP Camera

Learn more >

Gadgets & Things

Lexar Professional 2000x SDHC™/SDXC™ UHS-II cards

Learn more >


Learn more >

Lexar® Professional 1000x microSDHC™/microSDXC™ UHS-II cards

Learn more >

Family Friendly

ASUS VivoPC VM62 - Incredibly Powerful, Unbelievably Small

Learn more >

Lexar Professional 2000x SDHC™/SDXC™ UHS-II cards

Learn more >

Lexar® Professional 1000x microSDHC™/microSDXC™ UHS-II cards

Learn more >

Stocking Stuffer

Lexar® Professional 1000x microSDHC™/microSDXC™ UHS-II cards

Learn more >

Lexar Professional 2000x SDHC™/SDXC™ UHS-II cards

Learn more >

Christmas Gift Guide

Click for more ›

Most Popular Reviews

Best Deals on PC World

Latest News Articles


GGG Evaluation Team

Kathy Cassidy


First impression on unpacking the Q702 test unit was the solid feel and clean, minimalist styling.

Anthony Grifoni


For work use, Microsoft Word and Excel programs pre-installed on the device are adequate for preparing short documents.

Steph Mundell


The Fujitsu LifeBook UH574 allowed for great mobility without being obnoxiously heavy or clunky. Its twelve hours of battery life did not disappoint.

Andrew Mitsi


The screen was particularly good. It is bright and visible from most angles, however heat is an issue, particularly around the Windows button on the front, and on the back where the battery housing is located.

Simon Harriott


My first impression after unboxing the Q702 is that it is a nice looking unit. Styling is somewhat minimalist but very effective. The tablet part, once detached, has a nice weight, and no buttons or switches are located in awkward or intrusive positions.


Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?