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CAREER TRANSITIONS

After the bust: high-tech picture brightening

Employment outlook in the sector showing improvement

By Carole Feldman
Associated Press / May 16, 2010

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A decade or two ago, high-tech was the place go if you were looking for a job. New companies were sprouting up, offering opportunities to enterprising workers. Then came the dot-com bust.

“The thing lost after the dot-com bust was the idea that a tech job was cool,’’ said Todd Thibodeaux, the president and chief executive of the trade association CompTIA.

Now, high-tech looks again like a good place to go in a tough job environment.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics says job prospects for high-tech are excellent, ranging from network administrators, software engineers and programmers to computer manufacturers, operators and repairers.

Two — network systems and data communication analysts, and software engineers — are forecast to be among the fastest growing occupations over the next decade.

Thibodeaux said technology fared somewhat better than the rest of the economy during the recession. “Tech has been in a little more of a holding pattern than a shedding pattern,’’ he said.

Still, he said, there is an oversupply of skilled workers. “A lot of people out there are getting skills in anticipation of a hiring boom in tech,’’ he said.

In mid-April, there were about 250,000 jobs listed on CompTIA’s jobs site — down from about 400,000 several months ago.

Among high-tech jobs, security is one of the most in demand, especially with electronic health records firing up and data being stored in remote cloud environments.

“People are hiring,’’ said Tom Silver, senior vice president for North America at dice.com.

Most of the approximately 65,000 high-tech jobs listed on the dice.com site in April were for midlevel positions, from programmers to network storage specialists and others, Silver said. They require applicants to have skills and certifications already. The New York area had about 7,500 jobs listed, more than any other part of the country.

Technical writer Luci Barnitz, 37, of Westchester, Pa., has been looking for full-time work since she was laid off more than a year ago. “I get a job offer where they want me to move to Iowa or Utah, or I get a contract and they pull the funding on it,’’ she said.

Barnitz is networking, submitting applications and following job boards. She also has gotten some new training. “Maybe I could do more in content management systems or maybe pick up some more multimedia skills,’’ she said. But at the same time, it’s been tough to leave technical writing, which she’s done for more than 10 years.

One resource for workers seeking to enter high-tech is CompTIA. Gretchen Koch, director of Workforce Development Programs at the association, said it helps job seekers who it determines have some aptitude for high-tech to go to community colleges or commercial trainers. Funds are available through the Workforce Investment Act to help pay for the training, she said. CompTIA also helps with preparations for certification exams, and has listings of available jobs by location and job type.

Those just starting out in high-tech might want to go for an A-plus certification, which allows them to do personal computer repairs, among other things. Advanced certifications include Network-plus, Security-plus and others.

Dice.com also allows job seekers to search by job title, skill and location.

Not all high-tech jobs are with high-tech companies, of course. Many computer network, systems and database workers are in the telecomm, financial and insurance industries, and business management companies, schools and the government, the labor bureau study said.

“Computer networks are an integral part of business, and demand for these workers will increase as firms continue to invest in new technology,’’ the study added.

Many companies put off capital investment in technology during the recession, said John Challenger, the chief executive of Challenger, Gray and Christmas, a consulting firm that helps people re-enter the workforce. But many are poised to begin investing again, he said.

“You need talent to implement it, to customize it to your environment,’’ Challenger said.

One big area in technology is expected to be the health care industry, which is moving to computerize medical records. Silver said jobs in health information technology — or health IT — are just starting to track up. In mid-April, there were about 2,000 health care IT or medical records positions at dice.com. “We would expect that to grow,’’ he said.

Feeding that growth is the more than $25 billion that the federal government plans to spend to expand use of health IT by 2014.

Some people worry there won’t be enough highly skilled workers to meet demand.

CompTIA is working with a school in the Chicago area to promote tech as a career. “We want to do a little bit more to get kids with some marketable skills,’’ Thibodeaux said.