Net Log

U.S., Japan Are Worlds Apart on IT Employment

John Makulowich

By John Makulowich

The newsprint barely had dried on my column about high-technology work force needs when I found in my mailbox a recent addition to the literature. Titled "The Supply of Information Technology Workers in the United States" (, the study was produced by the Computing Research Association.

The Washington-based association represents more than 180 academic departments of computer science and engineering; labs and centers in industry, government and academia; and professional societies. It seeks to strengthen research and education in the computing fields, among other things.

The study, conducted by Peter Freeman and William Aspray with support from the National Science Foundation and collaboration from five other professional societies, aimed to "improve understanding of the supply and demand of information technology workers in the United States and the surrounding contextual issues."

The work is noteworthy for a number of reasons:

?First, it identifies and evaluates all the major sources of statistical information on the subject.

?Second, it offers a classification of IT workers into four categories: conceptualizers, developers, modifiers and extenders, and supporters and tenders.

?Third, it evaluates the issue of whether there is a shortage of IT workers in the United States.

?Fourth, it clearly defines four contextual issues for addressing the subject: political, demand types, action limitations and international.

?Fifth, it presents 37 recommendations grouped around a small number of issues.

On a related topic, a colleague recently sent me an article from a Japanese newspaper, Asahi, that addressed the very different impact of IT on the economies of the United States and Japan. The article was based on data from Japan's Economic Planning Agency.

It noted that from 1990 to 1997, at Japanese offices the increased investment in IT, such as introducing personal computers and the Internet, resulted in a net loss of 220,000 jobs. This sharply contrasted with the United States, where there was a net increase of 3.4 million jobs in the same period. About 30 percent of the new jobs in the United States were directly related to IT operations.

According to the newspaper, the findings showed IT has failed to produce a net increase in jobs in Japan, but led to downsizing of office administration sections in the same way that it did in the United States. On the flip side, in the United States, these efforts led to an increase in demand for new skills, such as software expertise.

It turns out that in Japan, there is the presumption that as more companies introduce personal computers and the Internet to raise productivity, the rate of decrease in administrative management positions will accelerate.

Another interesting tidbit from the agency's data is that from 1990 to 1997, e-commerce via the Internet and computer-based client management resulted in the loss of 1.94 million administrative jobs in Japan and 2.48 million in the United States. However, at the same time, 1.72 million new jobs were created in Japan and 5.88 million in the United States.

To contact John Makulowich, send e-mail to

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