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Help Wanted: Networking Skills – An Anomaly in Today’s Economy

Since the start of the recession in December 2008, nearly seven million people in the U.S. and almost half a million workers in Canada have lost their jobs. Manufacturing and construction have taken the brunt of job losses, with unemployment rates above 15 percent in many light industrial skill sets. It would seem that this recession is so pervasive that few occupations could escape. However, several highly-skilled occupations, including IT networking, have done just that. Employers of these knowledge workers have actually increased their needs for experienced talent.

TEKsystems Placements Verify the Trend

Confirmation of networking’s unique story is evident in TEKsystems’ data. At the highest level, networking is one of the few areas where placements have increased year-over-year. Network Analyst placements have grown more than 150 percent and significant increases have been seen in Systems Architects and Systems Engineers as well.

Within the Network Analyst, Systems Architect, and Systems Engineer job codes, placements have risen exponentially for IT professionals with Cisco, Security, Systems Management, Windows 2003 and Virtualization skills.

Thingamajob® Activity Confirms Networking’s Resilience

While job openings are scarce in today’s environment, some networking job postings increased year-over-year. Security Engineer and Systems Engineer postings are up 4.6 percent and 0.6 percent, respectively.

Layoffs have forced surges in applicant activity, as the ratio of applicants to openings has grown for all job categories. Some of the smallest increases in applicant activity are network-related with three categories posting less than 0.5 point growth year-over-year. Only two other categories — Desktop Support and Training / Instruction — posted increases less than 0.5. Many areas, such as Mainframe positions, QA Testers, and Developers have ratio increases greater than 1.5.

Gartner Provides Additional Evidence of the Trend

According to Gartner, a leading IT industry analyst firm, three networking jobs are among the 10 hardest job titles to hire: Network Engineer, Network Architect and Security Analyst. The average amount of time to fill each of these positions is longer than three months, despite the larger supply of workers supposedly created by the recession. Furthermore, SAN and UNIX skills are among the top 10 skills that are moderately-to-extremely difficult to hire.

Sometimes Unemployment Rates Are Misleading

In the third quarter of 2009, IT unemployment increased slightly to 5.8 percent. Surprisingly, the two networking skill sets tracked by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) have unemployment rates that are higher than the IT average. Unemployment for Network Systems and Data Communications Analysts increased to 5.9 percent, 74 percent higher than the previous year.

Even more peculiar is that unemployment for Network and Computer Systems Administrators rose to 9.6 percent, 300 percent higher than the third quarter 2008 rate! This rate seems to suggest that these workers would be easy to find. In this case, however, occupational unemployment rates may not be the best indicators of worker availability.

Explaining BLS Data

We know networking has been hot in 2009, yet, unemployment for networking skill sets jumped 74% and 300% year-over-year. Companies would be wise to examine the industries that heavily employ IT workers before assuming that skilled networking talent has flooded the market.

More than 85% of the recession’s job losses have occurred in five industries: Construction, Leisure and Hospitality, Manufacturing, Administrative and Waste Services (low end temporary staffing), and Retail. These industries employ only 15% of all IT workers. In contrast, the Financial Services, Professional and Technical Services, Information, and Education and Health Services industries employ 65% of IT workers. These IT-dominant verticals have not seen unemployment levels increase at the same rate as the Construction, Leisure and Hospitality, and Manufacturing industries. This suggests that IT occupational unemployment rates are not as relevant when assessing the health of IT occupations. Instead, the industry payroll jobs changes for IT-reliant employers are better indicators. Given the lack of layoffs in these IT-intensive industries, it is likely that the IT applicant pool is smaller than IT unemployment levels would suggest.

Unraveling the Wires

It is clear that networking is faring well in what is the coldest job market since the Great Depression. Networking skills are still in demand because they save and generate money for businesses. Enterprises prioritize network-related projects like virtualization, data center consolidation and convergence because they promise cost savings and efficiency improvements.

Security also remains a high priority as organizations realize it is a necessity. Enterprises know that the cost of a compromised network is severe and could kill profitability. Few companies are sending security, network engineering, or network analysis responsibilities overseas to off-shore centers.

Furthermore, a skills gap still exists for security specialists. In fact, the disparity between supply and demand of proficient security workers is one of the highest in the industry. The rapidly changing security landscape widens this skills gap further.

IT Security spending has grown 36 percent from 8.2 percent of the overall budget in 2007 to 11.2 percent in 2009. This increase is driven by the following factors:

  • High profile security and network breaches
  • New and increased industry regulations and standards (HIPAA, SOX, GBL and PCI-DSS)
  • Changing IT infrastructure (virtualization, mobility)

What Is Next?

Compared to the broader IT and overall job markets, networking is unique. As the economy improves, the positive networking trend will continue to grow and the labor market will become increasingly tight. Companies seeking network talent may need to partner with talent acquisition firms to source hard-to-fill network positions. At a minimum, they will need to offer training to existing employees to develop and strengthen emerging network skillsets. They should also evaluate how well they can differentiate their organizations with unique employee value propositions (EVPs) to attract and retain quality talent.

Author: Tania Lavin, Market Research at Allegis Group

About TEKsystems®

People are at the heart of every successful business initiative. At TEKsystems, we understand people. Every year we deploy over 80,000 IT professionals at 6,000 client sites across North America, Europe and Asia. Our deep insights into IT human capital management enable us to help our clients achieve their business goals – while optimizing their IT workforce strategies. We provide IT staffing solutions, IT talent management expertise and IT services to help our clients plan, build and run their critical business initiatives. Through our range of quality-focused delivery models, we meet our clients where they are, and take them where they want to go, the way they want to get there.

TEKsystems. Our people make IT possible.