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Also, although the salaries of IT workers were higher than those of workers in the non-IT sector, many IT employees also worked more than 40 hours per week, so their higher salaries were in part payment for a longer work week. Many workers reportedly would have preferred a reduced workload and more flexible schedules to higher pay. Finally, most workers were concerned about keeping pace with new IT technology. Although the majority of IT employees responding in the survey had access to the latest hardware and software, they wanted more formal training with accreditation.
Our research also revealed frequent job changes among IT personnel. During the boom, the average stay at a job was 18–24 months. “In certain industries, involving high technology, long periods with the same employer may indicate outdated skills or even a lack of ambition” (“Job-Hopping,” 1998). High-level IT skills were in such demand that, according to one survey, four out of five chief information officers would consider becoming an IT consultant if they were out of work. The high demand for IT workers was being driven by the thriving national economy, the burgeoning exploration of the Internet as a basis for business and new business models, and the need to fix year 2000 problems in legacy software. Year 2000 problems increased the demand for older programmers who knew COBOL, and Internet applications fed the demand for young programmers, graphic designers, web page designers, and network installers.
An IT Worker Shortage?
A frequently discussed issue in IT-related literature is the possibility of an IT worker shortage in the near future. Views differ in terms of whether a shortage is actually looming, and the evidence cited in support of either side is sometimes lacking in important ways. For example, a 1999 study issued by the Computing Research Association, an organization representing research scientists, concluded that the “preponderance of evidence suggests that there is a shortage of IT workers, or at least a tight labor market.”4 The study also concluded that the increase in the number of H1B visas—which was temporary and corresponded to IT industry efforts to attract and bring in foreign, specifically Indian, programmers—would not be sufficient to satisfy the long-term growing demand for IT workers. Despite these findings, the study acknowledged the difficulty of determining whether a shortage existed; this was so in part because IT workers come from diverse occupations, and also because available data on supply and demand were out of date and inadequate to detect a shortage directly. Because of these data problems, the study relied on indirect information, e.g., the number of bachelor degrees awarded in computer science, the number of IT training certificates completed, estimates of the growth in IT salaries, and anecdote.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) released data that supports the prediction of an IT worker shortage. Its report (Silvestri, 1997) estimated that, between 1994 and 2005, more ____________
4 Freeman and Aspray, 1999, p. 9. This report was triggered by earlier reports by the Information Technology Association of America (ITAA), a trade association of over 11,000 firms, and a report by the Department of Commerce (DoC). The ITAA reports, released in 1997 and 1998 and based on surveys of its member firms, and the DoC report concluded that there was a large shortage of IT workers. The General Accounting Office criticized this conclusion, arguing that the ITAA and DoC studies were flawed because they had not appreciated the difference between a tight labor market and a persistent shortage, and they had downplayed the role of retraining incumbent workers to meet the growing demand for IT skills. See ITAA, 1997, 1998; U.S. Department of Commerce, 1997; U.S. General Accounting Office, 1998.
14 Attracting the Best: How the Military Competes for Information Technology Personnel than a million new computer scientists and engineers, systems analysts, and computer programmers would be needed in the United States. Based on its research, the BLS predicted that the private-sector demand for IT workers would grow more rapidly than job growth overall and that IT workforce salaries would grow more rapidly than the national average as long as the shortage of IT workers persisted.
The opposite hypothesis, that an IT labor shortage was not likely in the near future, was offered in congressional testimony. Indeed, economist Robert Lerman (1998), during his statement before the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, contested the notion that IT workers were, or would be, in short supply. He argued that the data purportedly showing a large number of IT job vacancies were not a good indicator of a shortage of IT workers. Vacancy data reflect the current number of open positions; vacancies exist even in a well-functioning labor market with a market-clearing wage. Moreover, he emphasized that the potential pool of IT workers is large
since IT workers come from many backgrounds. He illustrated this point with data on college graduates:
Among the 1992–93 cohort of college graduates, only one-third with jobs in computer science or programming jobs had degrees in computer science or information science. Nearly as large a share came from majors in business management (28 percent). Students with engineering degrees accounted for 12 percent of new graduates working in IT fields.
Other sciences, social sciences, humanities, education, and other fields accounted for the remainder (27 percent).
Contrary to the drumbeat of the popular press and the growing conventional wisdom at that time about the impending crisis in IT worker supply, Lerman found that the projected increase in the supply of college-graduate IT workers would likely meet the large increase in the demand for IT workers forecasted by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. As Table
2.3 shows, he estimated an average annual growth in jobs for operations researchers, programmers, systems analysts, computer engineers, and database administrators of 117,000, Table 2.3 Projected Annual Growth in Supply and Demand of IT Workers
based on the Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates. He also predicted an increase in supply from the outflow of college graduates, assuming the graduates followed the same pattern of occupational choice as found for the 1992-93 cohort of college graduates. His supply estimate happens to be virtually equal to his demand estimate, though his method of projecting supply was completely independent of the BLS forecast of demand. Yet even if the demand and supply estimates were not so close, his work would still make the point that the anticipated supply can be expected to satisfy much of the growth in demand. Given that so many non–computer science majors entered IT, it appears as though many college graduates, regardless of their major, responded to job opportunities in IT, and employers who sought IT workers were willing to hire bright people and train them on the job.
Development and Training of IT Workers The development and training of IT workers is another frequently discussed topic in the literature. Given the speed of IT development and evolution, IT training has become an important issue for employees and employers alike. During the 1990s, employers responded to the demands of a constantly changing IT environment in several ways: strengthening their in-house training and skill development programs, keeping compensation and benefits competitive with the market, and using contractors for short-term demands. Training and development opportunities became part of the overall compensation package offered to IT workers. One type of skill development program might attract college graduates through internships during college summers and rotational, experience-building programs on the job. Another type of program might focus on retraining long-time employees who were skilled, capable, and willing to stay with the organization.
During the 1990s, employee demand for IT training was fueled by the desire to stay current with IT technology. This led IT workers to prize firms that provided access to new technology, offered training opportunities, and generated opportunities to apply or extend the new technology in the business environment. At the same time, employers were able to benefit from employees’ ever-increasing skill sets.5 IT itself—in the form of new web sites—facilitated employer and employee searches for information about training, job opportunities, and compensation. For example, the Department of Commerce created a web site containing information on IT training programs.
The Technology Administration site (www.ta.doc.gov) contained profiles of over 170 systems development programs, including academic and commercial programs, internships, recruitment opportunities, retraining programs, opportunities for the disadvantaged, and programs for teacher development. JobSmart (www.jobsmart.org) provided links to salary surveys for many professions, as did InformationWeek’s web site (www.informationweek.com/ career/default.html) for IT salary comparisons. The user entered his or her job title and the site returned salary information for people in the same region, same industry, or same level of experience. The computer consultant resource page at Realrates (www.realrates.com) let a user compare his or her salary with those of others who knew the same programming languages. The Department of Labor’s (www.dol.gov) online job bank had a section devoted to IT positions. The site also included America’s Job Bank (AJB), begun in 1995. Employers ____________
5 The training program of Texas Instruments provides a good example of the types of training programs developed and offered by large corporations. A large number of training courses are offered online (see www.ti-training.com/courses/, last accessed September 2003).
16 Attracting the Best: How the Military Competes for Information Technology Personnel could use AJB to list job openings and review resumes, and job seekers could search for jobs by zip code.
Private contractors capitalized on the high demand for sophisticated training by designing more accessible training programs and certification procedures. For example, Microsoft created Skills 2000, an initiative with three tiers. Tier 1 used job fairs and Monster Board, a job market web site. Tier 2 offered half-price training sessions on Saturdays to keep information systems professionals up to date in Microsoft technology. Tier 3 offered free technical training to academic instructors at high schools, colleges, and universities. Successful students received a certificate as a “Microsoft Certified Professional.” The Skills 2000 web site contained an information technology aptitude tool to help applicants determine their potential in eight career categories: database administration, information systems operator/analyst, interactive digital media specialist, network specialist, programmer/analyst, software engineer, technical support representative, and technical writer.
However, research also showed that the constant flow of new IT placed a strain on IT personnel and managers and had some negative effect on IT projects. For example, project failures and budget overruns became common. In one survey, over two-thirds of IT directors reported having had a major IT project failure, and the risk of failure resulted in increased stress that affected personal lives, sometimes leading to breakdowns and depression (Mansell-Lewis, 1998).
As indicated by this review, the expansion of IT in the private sector has brought great benefits to employers and employees, but it has not occurred without costs on both sides. While private-sector IT positions were often compared favorably to their government counterparts in the popular press, a closer analysis of the literature revealed areas of job dissatisfaction among private-sector IT employees as well as concerns among employers about their ability to maintain a sufficient supply of IT workers and the cost of doing so (in terms of compensation and other benefits, such as professional development).
IT Manpower in the Federal Government