WASHINGTON - U.S. officials Thursday said that offshoring will hurt the growth of programming jobs in in this decade, though expansion of health care IT and mobile networks will in turn increase demand for software developers, technical support and system analysts.
By 2020, employment in all computer occupations is expected to increase by 22%, but some IT fields will fare better than others, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) biennial update of employment projections.
Comparative growth rates
Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
Demand for software developers will be the strongest in this period, with increases ranging from 28% to 32%, depending on the type of software development.
The BLS update imagines what IT employment will look like through 2020.
The agency's forecasts, particularly for technology-related jobs, are often controversial because they can't account for rapid market changes and tech disruptions. But its estimates are often cited in various policy debates in issues ranging from U.S. educational needs to immigration policy.
The BLS IT employment growth rate was characterized as "anemic" by Victor Janulaitis, CEO of Janco Associates, which analyzes IT wage and employment trends.
"When you consider the overall demand for systems and applications in high growth markets like China and India, [the BLS projections] means the U.S. will be doing a diminishing portion of the development and implementation work," said Janulaitis. "If that's the case, the U.S. will no longer be the leader in IT.
"The BLS projections are a bad sign for the U.S. IT graduates from universities -- those numbers do not cover the net growth necessary to give all of the graduates jobs," Janulaitis added.
The outlook across IT occupations varies. The BLS outlook for various tech jobs follows:
Demand for database administrators is expected to increase by 31%, adding 33,900 jobs in this decade thanks to a need to make use of an ever-growing mountain of data.
The field employed 110,800 in 2010 at a median wage of $73,490.
For IT managers, employment is projected to increase 18% by 55,800 jobs to 363,700 jobs by 2020.
BLS said growth in the health care industry and the need for more IT security may help increase IT management jobs, but added that "cloud computing may shift some IT services to computer systems design and related services firms, concentrating jobs in that industry."
The median pay for IT managers in 2010 was $115,780.
Job growth forecast
Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook
The weakest IT growth area is computer programmers, which is also the occupation most susceptible to offshoring.
The number of people employed as computer programmers will increase by just 12% through the decade, from 363,100 in 2010 to 406,800 by 2020, he bureau projects.
That is less than the 14% expected rate of increase for all occupations, IT and otherwise, in the U.S. over this same period, reported BLS.
Offshoring was blamed for relatively weak growth in demand for computer programmers.
"Since computer programming can be done from anywhere in the world, companies often hire programmers in countries where wages are lower," said the BLS. "This ongoing trend will limit growth for computer programmers in the United States."
The median pay for programmers in 2010 was $71,380.
Help desk, technical support
The health industry's growth and its shift to electronic records will help support demand for computer support specialists, which include help desk personnel.
There were 607,000 people employed in computer support in 2010; that's expected to grow to 717,000 by 2020, an 18% increase.
The 2010 median pay for computer support specialist was $46,260.
Technical IT support workers are also being hurt by a shift of jobs to offshore facilities, though the BLS is a little more optimistic about the outlook for this occupation.
"A recent trend to move jobs to lower cost regions of the United States may offset some loss of jobs to other countries," the bureau said, referring to hiring of people who provide call center work largely from the homes.
The BLS projects the number of computer systems analysts to grow by 22% through 2020, thanks to the growth of mobile networks and the spread of healthcare systems, such as e-prescribing.
The number of computer system analysts in 2010 in the U.S. was 544,000. It is expected to rise 22% to 664,800 by 2020. Their median 2010 salary was $77,740.
The BLS said there were 913,100 software developers working in the U.S. 2010 earning a median wage of $90,530.
The bureau forecasts that the number of software development jobs will increase by 30%, or 270,900, through 2020.
The fastest rate of growth (32%) will be for system software developers, and the lowest rate (28%) will be application developers, the bureau said.
Other IT occupations
In 2010, there were 347,200 network and computer systems administrators employed in the U.S., earning a median wage of $69,160. Employment in these occupations is expected to grow 28%, or 96,600 jobs, by 2020.
The BLS lumps information security analysts, Web developers and computer network architects in a single category, which it said employed a combined 302,300 in 2010 and was due to grow by 22% to 367,900 by 2020. The median pay for all workers in this category was $75,660.
Ron Hira, an associate professor of public policy at the Rochester Institute of Technology, said the BLS IT forecasts have been wildly wrong in the past.
"Volatile occupations tend to be subject to bad forecasts and it's clear that computer occupation employment levels are very hard to forecast," said Hira.
"The forecasts are biased towards the most recent history in the occupation," he said.
Hira said he would place more stock in a predictable profession, such as primary school teachers where the BLS can estimate the number of births and the teacher to student ratios to estimate employment growth.
The BLS has "no methodology to estimate technological disruptions (like the internet or ERP) that can increase demand for computer occupations," said Hira.
David Foote, of Foote Partners LLC, a IT labor market research and advisory firm, scoffed at BLS's projections and said they were too far out in time to be reliable.
Foote said that anyone that makes "a 10-year projection based on current market volatility and uncertainty which is unprecedented - is kidding themselves."
The projections don't take into account the rate of technological change, he said.
Foote said the BLS is only identifying a "small group" of the IT jobs and isn't tracking the new kinds of technology jobs that combine business and IT experience to create hybrid jobs. Much of that is being driven by the demands to find useful ways to apply use so-called big data in a business.
Sharon Machlis contributed to this story.
Patrick Thibodeau covers SaaS and enterprise applications, outsourcing, government IT policies, data centers and IT workforce issues for Computerworld. Follow Patrick on Twitter at @DCgov , or subscribe to Patrick's RSS feed . His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org .
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