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IT jobs holding their own, while the industry holds its breath

The latest report from Dice Holdings, an online job site, shows a modest decline in available jobs since this time last year, with New York accounting for more than half the loss. But at least one analyst cautions the market could turn sour yet.

Job openings for information technology workers declined 3% from this time last year, according to the latest Dice Report. Omitting the New York metropolitan area, however, the decrease in listings shrinks to about 1.5%, suggesting the tech industry is weathering the rough U.S. economy, Dice spokesman Tom Silver said.

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"The New York area has been disproportionately affected by what is happening in the financial markets, so that is just what you would expect," said Silver, vice president, marketing and customer support at New York-based Dice Holdings Inc. "Pulling out New York, the market is flat."

The snapshot is consistent with recent jobs data on computer services from the U.S. Department of Labor. It also jibes with anecdotal information picked up by Forrester Research Inc., the IT consulting firm in Cambridge, Mass. Whether the relatively benign news is a lagging or leading indicator of the IT sector, however, remains to be seen, ventured Forrester analyst Andrew Bartels.

"We keep waiting for the other shoe to drop with regard to employment, but we haven't seen any massive hiring or layoffs, except anecdotally from the Wall Street firms making big cuts in staff overall," said Bartels, who follows the IT economy at Forrester.

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Change in job listings, by metro area, as of May 1, compared with the same period a year ago.
Silicon Valley -14%
New York/New Jersey -13%
Philadelphia -11%
Atlanta -9%
Boston -8%
Washington, D.C. -7%
Chicago -5%
Los Angeles -1%
Dallas +5%
Seattle +9%
Source: The Dice Report, May 2008, May 2007

The Dice Report is issued monthly by Dice Holdings, an online career site that bills itself as the leading site of IT professionals, with roughly 90,000 jobs listed. According to its May 1 report, the number of available tech jobs dropped by about 3,000 to 91,675, compared with 94,846 jobs for the same period a year ago.

The soft job market still outpaces the 89,286 jobs posted by Dice at this time two years ago, but the trend is going in the other direction. This is the first year since 2003 that the number of available jobs has gone down.

The Dice tally points to other potentially worrisome signs. Full-time available jobs dropped 4.5%. And, while the New York/ New Jersey area accounted for about half of the decline, Silicon Valley actually registered the steepest drop, posting 14% fewer jobs compared with last year. Indeed, all but two of the top metro areas for tech jobs showed a year-over-year decline. Philadelphia, Atlanta, Boston, Washington, D.C., and Chicago posted declines ranging from 5% to 11%, while Los Angeles slipped 1.2%. The two bright spots are Seattle, where job postings rose 9%, and Dallas, up 5% (see sidebar).

Certain IT skills show strong demand, Dice's Silver pointed out. Jobs for people with Oracle database skills surged 12% to 19,488, from 17,354 a year ago; openings for project management jobs rose 8%, Silver said. Even demand for C, C++ and C# programming skills remains strong, with some 17,000 job listings on the site.

"When we look at what is happening geographically and from a skills perspective, tech is still a great place to be."
Tom Silver
vice president, marketing and customer supportDice Holdings Inc.

"When we look at what is happening geographically and from a skills perspective, tech is still a great place to be, particularly for people that have Oracle database skills and projects management skills," Silver said.

Indeed, April employment numbers from the Department of Labor bear out the resiliency of the tech market, relative to the economy as a whole. The U.S. labor market lost 20,000 jobs in April, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics -- not as bad as some predicted, but hardly good news. Computer systems designs, however, added 10,000 jobs during the month; while data processing and hosting trimmed 1,000 jobs. Unemployment in the tech sector, at roughly 2%, remains well below the 5% unemployment figures for the market as a whole.

Under the circumstances, the job declines are "modest," Forrester's Bartels said, and consistent with the "holding pattern" of his CIO clients. The sector remains relatively healthy. From a vendor perspective, software continues to hold up well, as expected, he said. Hardware is down a bit and IT services and IT outsourcing are showing "stronger growth than we expected," he said.

That said, Bartels said the Labor Department's April data showing a pickup of 10,000 jobs in computer services is more likely a lagging than leading indicator of the IT job market. CIOs cut back on staff during downturns, Bartels said. "The fact is, it is very likely the job market will slow down once CIOs start tightening the screws."

Let us know what you think about the story; email: Linda Tucci, Senior News Writer

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