I did a radio interview last Saturday talking about the IT job market. We covered the standard message points: lots of open jobs in some regions but very few in others, not enough skilled people to fill them wherever they seem to be, and employers being very picky and specific about who they are hiring. But the point I kept coming back to in my own mind was when will the U.S. labor market hit a tipping point?
Unemployment is almost always a lagging indicator during post-recession periods of growth. Employers keep things close to the vest, having found they tread water with fewer resources. At some point, however, the outlook turns and they begin to focus on growth, new opportunities and the staff they need to take advantage of them.
Each quarter we release our IT business confidence index and one of the main components of the measure is intent to hire. We break it down by size of company to get an even more detailed picture.
Quarter after quarter the results keep showing the same thing, consistent intent to hire, even growing intent among small and medium IT firms, but where’s the follow-through? Where’s the tipping point?
A common misperception about IT jobs is that everyone working in IT is working for an IT company, and in particular a big name Fortune 500 IT standard-bearer. The reality is at the other end of the spectrum. Most people in IT work in an IT job for a non-IT company or they work for a small IT shop serving mostly other small companies.
This phenomenon diffuses the market and keeps it as stable and attractive a profession as one could hope for. Skilled IT professionals are highly valued and always in demand. But where is the tipping point signaling growth of opportunity for hundreds of thousands of new entrants to the IT workforce? We need confidence in small businesses of all shapes and sizes to power IT job growth.
I don’t have all the answers, but I can say a tipping point can’t be reached entirely by innovation in IT offerings. Cloud computing, the need for greater security, sophisticated mobile devices and social media have all created great opportunities to morph business models and change paradigms, setting the stage for the future. Those tremendous innovations alone cannot muster confidence in a small business CEO, loosen the purse strings of banks, or magically bring a moribund national psyche to the simultaneous consensus that tomorrow will be better, and the day after and the day after that.