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Technical opinion

The Size of the IT Job Market

"Jobs are disappearing" and "steady erosion of IT jobs to global outsourcing" are recent themes in the media, presenting a grim outlook for IT jobs in the U.S. This underscores the importance of systematic study of the IT job market in an environment of global outsourcing [3]. Many observers feel the effect of outsourcing has been to reduce the number of IT jobs in the U.S. One approach to assess the relative effects of factors, such as outsourcing, is to study the relative size of the job market for IT personnel before the advent of global outsourcing and then compare it with the current conditions of plentiful global outsourcing.

Starting in the early 1990s, researchers have systematically sampled job advertisements. Objectives of this research stream were to determine what skills were most in demand for IT professionals, and any data presented on the size of the job markets was merely a by-product. Similarly, newspaper advertising was assessed in a longitudinal format during much of the 1990s. With the growing popularity of Internet job sites, sampling of job advertisements switched to the Internet in order to offer a longitudinal base for appraising the relative size and direction of the current job market. Current objectives are to appraise the strength and direction of today's IT job market as compared to that of the last decade and to the tumultuous early part of this decade. Continuity is achieved through consistency of the geographic locations sampled. The cities or metro areas included in the current study are those sampled in the 1990s. Early findings from this study were presented at the ACM SIGMIS/CPR conference with 2005 data [2]. This column updates the data and poses the questions: How does the IT job market of this decade compare to that of the previous decade, and Are there trends in the job market of the previous decade that may hold lessons for the near future?

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Data Collection

Data collection in the 1990s was based on newspaper job ads. The major newspaper in each of the selected cities was analyzed once a year. This was a laborious, manual classification task that was aided by the development of a job skill classification taxonomy. This taxonomy was revised several times as popular job skills changed. Another major change was a switch to Internet-based job sites. After some time was spent studying the relative accuracy and effectiveness of competing job sites, the site was selected as the research site, as it is one of the most popular job sites for IT jobs and lends itself well to systematic analysis of position advertisement trends.

The nationwide sampling of geographic locations for selection of job ads is an important aspect of the scope and continuity of this research. From the beginning, it was obvious to researchers that a systematic selection of cities to cover the geography of the U.S. would add substantially to the ability to extrapolate research results to the entire U.S. IT job market. Accordingly, this research has been based on a geographic cross section of the U.S. IT job market. This concept continued as the research migrated to the site and extended in 2001 from the original 10 cities to the 35 metropolitan areas offered by For example, the job-location retrieval criterion of "Chicago" was extended to: "Chicago, North" or "Chicago, Northwest" or "Chicago, South" or "Indiana, Gary/Merrillville." The logic of this extension was that commutes from surrounding areas into a metropolitan site were becoming common. allows the separation of IT jobs from other jobs by general job descriptors, which are used by advertisers for each of their jobs. The job descriptor set selected was: Computer, hardware; Computer, software; Information Technology; Internet/E-commerce; and Telecommunications. Other job descriptors, such as Marketing, Accounting, and the like were not selected. Again, the IT job descriptors were also restricted to the 35 geographic locations for sampling continuity.

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Historical and Current Job Data

Figure 1 shows a summary of the (historical) data for the number of positions collected in the 1990s. Figure 1 summarizes the total number of open IT/IS positions in the selected cities as advertised in the newspapers of those cities on a given Sunday in that year (data collection methodology given in [4]). After 1994 there was a tremendous boom in the economy and a matching increase thereafter in the demand for and supply of IT graduates. At the end of that decade and into the start of the next, there was the dot-com downturn followed by the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Data collection resumed in early 2002 with a change to Internet data collection and use of the job Web site for the same cities studied in the 1990s (details of the revised data collection methodology are given in [4]). Figure 2 summarizes total jobs by year and quarter in this decade.

The data in Figure 2, (collected for each quarter of those years), in contrast to the job market for the same cities in the 1990s shows a much restricted size for the total IT jobs advertised for the early part of this period and a much improved size more recently. Assuming the data is comparable, an interesting question is: How bad has the job market been? From the data in early 2002, immediately after the dot-com decline and the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, it appears the number of jobs was reduced to about one-third of its peak for the same cities in the 1990s. Similar results for the depth of the market have been shown [1].

It may be that for a global economy where outsourcing is common, critical and complex development work continues to be conducted on site rather than outsourced.

What is the current condition of the job market? It seems that as of late, the job market has roughly tripled and may quadruple from its low point in early 2002. Combined with anecdotal evidence, this supports the position that the IT job market has recovered.

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The IT job market is on an upward trend and seems to be improving in quite a dramatic fashion. It may be that for a global economy where outsourcing is common, critical and complex development work continues to be conducted on site rather than outsourced. The recent declines and low enrollments in CS and MIS programs means the number of graduates will be low enough so that, as the market improves, job demand might be even greater than in the boom times of the 1990s. The past shortages of IT personnel may well return before the end of the decade.

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1. Gallivan, M.J., Truex III, D.P., and Kvasny, L. Changing patterns in IT skill sets 1998–2003: A content analysis of classified advertising. The Database for Advances in Information Systems 35, 3 (Summer 2004), 64–90.

2. Litecky, C., Prabhakar, B., and Arnett, K. The IT/IS job market: A longitudinal perspective. SIGMIS CPR, Proceedings of the 2006 ACM SIGMIS CPR Conference (Pomona, CA, Apr. 2006).

3. McKinsey and Company. The Emerging Global Labor Market. McKinsey Global Institute;

4. Prabhakar, B., Litecky, C., and Arnett, K. IT skills in a tough job market. Commun. ACM 48, 10 (Oct. 2005), 91–94.

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Chuck Litecky ( is a professor in the Department of Management at Southern Illinois University-Carbondale.

Bipin Prabhakar (Bipin.Prabhakar@ is an assistant professor in the Department of Information Systems at the University of Cincinnati.

Kirk Arnett ( is a professor in the Department of Management and Information Systems at Mississippi State University.

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F1Figure 1. IT jobs in selected cities, 1992–1998.

F2Figure 2. IT jobs in 35 selected metropolitan areas, 2002–2006.

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©2008 ACM  0001-0782/08/0400  $5.00

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