Biennial update says offshoring will limit growth in some occupations, while healthcare IT provides a boost
Computerworld – WASHINGTON — U.S. officials on Thursday said that offshoring will hurt the growth of U.S. programming jobs in this decade, though expansion of healthcare IT and mobile networks will in turn increase demand for software developers, support technicians and systems 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
Projected 10-year growth Compared to other categories
Increase 29% or more Much faster than average
Increase 20% to 28% Faster than average
Increase 10% to 19% About average
Increase 3% to 9% More slowly than average
Decrease 2% to increase 2% Little or no change
Decrease 3% to 9% Decline slowly or moderately
Decrease 10% or more Decline rapidly
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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 on issues ranging from education to immigration.
The IT employment growth rate projected by the BLS was characterized as “anemic” by Victor Janulaitis, CEO of Janco Associates, a research firm that 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] mean 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 varies from occupation to occupation. Here’s a look at the BLS projections for various tech jobs.
Demand for database administrators is expected to increase by 31%, with 33,900 jobs being added this decade as enterprises endeavor to cull valuable information from an ever-growing mountain of data.
The field employed 110,800 people in 2010 at a median salary of $73,490.
For IT managers, employment is projected to increase by 55,800 jobs, or 18%, to 363,700 jobs by 2020.
The BLS said growth in the healthcare industry and the need for more IT security may spur an increase in the number IT management jobs, but the agency 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
Job title May 2010 employment 2020 jobs forecast Job growth forecast Pct job growth forecast Expected growth rate thru 2020 May 2010 median wage
Software developers, systems software 392,300 519,400 127,100 32% Much faster than average $ 94,180
Database administrators 110,800 144,800 34,000 31% Much faster than average $ 73,490
Network & computer system admins 347,300 443,800 96,500 28% Faster than average $ 69,160
Software developers, applications 520,800 664,500 143,700 28% Faster than average $ 87,790
Computer systems analyst 544,400 664,800 120,400 22% Faster than average $ 77,740
Information Security Analysts, Web Developers, and Computer Network Architects 302,300 367,900 65,600 22% Faster than average $ 75,660
Computer & information systems managers 307,900 363,700 55,800 18% About average $115,780
Computer support specialists 607,100 717,100 110,000 18% About average $ 46,260
Computer programmers 363,100 406,800 43,700 12% Average $ 71,380
Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook
The IT occupation expected to show the weakest growth is computer programming, which is also the profession 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, the BLS projects.
That’s less than the expected 14% increase in the number of U.S. jobs across all occupations, IT and otherwise, over the same period, according to the 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 healthcare industry’s growth and its shift to electronic records will help spur demand for computer support specialists, a job category that includes help desk personnel.
There were 607,000 people employed in computer support in 2010. That figure is expected to grow to 717,000 by 2020, for an 18% increase.
The 2010 median pay for computer support specialists was $46,260.
Technical support workers are also being hurt by a shift of jobs to other countries, 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 the trend of hiring people who handle call center duties largely from their homes.
The BLS projects that the number of computer systems analysts will grow by 22% through 2020, thanks to the spread of mobile networks and the expanded use of computerized healthcare tools, such as e-prescription systems.
The number of computer system analysts in the U.S. in 2010 was 544,000. That figure is expected to rise 22% to 664,800 by 2020. The median salary of a systems analyst was $77,740 in 2010.
The BLS said there were 913,100 software developers in the U.S. 2010; they were earning a median salary 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 (28%) will be for 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 by 96,600 jobs, or 28%, through 2020.
The BLS lumps information security analysts, Web developers and computer network architects in a single category. It said a combined 302,300 people held those positions in 2010 and projected that employment in that category would grow 22% to 367,900 jobs by 2020. The median pay for all workers in that category was $75,660 in 2010.
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 toward the most recent history in the occupation,” he said.
Hira said he would place more stock in growth projections for a predictable profession. Citing primary school teachers as an example, he pointed out that the BLS can estimate the number of births during the decade and factor in teacher-student ratios to reach an estimate of employment growth.
The BLS has “no methodology to estimate technological disruptions that can increase demand for computer occupations,” said Hira, citing the rapid increases in the use of the Internet and ERP systems as examples of IT disruptions.
David Foote, CEO of Foote Partners, an IT labor market research firm, scoffed at the BLS’s projections and said they extended too far out into the future to be reliable.
In light of “current market volatility and uncertainty which is unprecedented,” Foote said that anyone who makes a 10-year IT employment projection “is kidding themselves.”
The projections don’t take into account the rate of technological change, he said.
Foote said the BLS only identifies a “small group” of IT jobs and doesn’t track the new kinds of technology jobs that combine business and IT experience to create hybrid professions. Much of that is being driven by the demands to find useful ways to apply use so-called big data in a business.