IT skills gap remains

U.S. companies dropped 500,000 information technology workers off their payrolls last year, cutting the size of the IT work force from 10.4 million in 2000 to 9.9 million in 2001, according to a survey released May 6 by the Information Technology Association of America. ITAA, a trade association in Arlington, Va., represents 500 member IT companies.

The study found that tech workers employed by IT companies were much more likely to be laid off than workers employed by non-IT companies. IT firms cut their tech staffs by 15 percent, compared to non-IT companies, which cut their staffs just 4 percent.

The study did identify a bright spot: hiring managers said they want to fill 1.1 million jobs in the next 12 months, up 27 percent from last year. That new demand is an indicator of economic recovery, said Harris Miller, president of ITAA.

"We find people are cautiously optimistic," he said.

However, a shadow lingers over the renewed hiring. For the second straight year, hiring managers said they would have trouble filling nearly one out of every two jobs because applicants' skills don't match their needs, Miller said. Of the 1.1 million positions managers want to fill this year, almost 600,000 will remain unfilled because workers don't have the right skills for them, the study found.

A skills profile included in the survey ? derived from the 30,000 technical jobs listed on IT job board ? found that the C programming language is the hottest technical skill, followed by Oracle, SQL, Java and Windows NT.

"Experience is the No. 1 indicator that separates people out of resume piles," Miller said. Candidates with only academic credentials will find it harder to get an IT job than others with internship or professional experience, he said.

ITAA's work force survey was conducted by Market Decisions Corp. of Portland, Ore. Market Decisions conducted phone interviews in March with 532 randomly selected hiring managers at IT and non-IT companies. The survey has a margin of error of 3.6 percent.

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