Tech jobs: who won, who lost in the recession?

Friday - 4/30/2010, 10:40am EDT

Josh James, Director of Research; Olga Grkavac, executive vice president, public sector; TechAmerica

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By Suzanne Kubota
Senior Internet Editor
FederalNewsRadio.com

The U.S. high-tech industry lost 245,600 jobs in 2009, after four years of steady growth, according to a new report.

However, while "times are bad and things are tough all over" as the old saying goes, for federal employees and contractors in the DC area, they could be worse and tougher.

In looking at employment in the information technology field for a report titled Cyberstates 2009: A Complete State-by-State Overview of the High-Technology Industry, Josh James, Director of Research and Olga Grkavac, executive vice president, public sector at TechAmerica found encouraging news for federal employees and contractors.

According to the report, every high-tech sector saw employment losses in 2009. Of the 245,600 jobs lost, space and defense systems manufacturing was least affected with employment declining by 0.5 percent, or 1,200 jobs. Software services experienced the smallest decline, losing 20,700 jobs, or one percent. Engineering and tech services saw a net loss of 59,000 jobs, as did communications services, shedding 53,000 jobs. The most jobs lost, 112,600, were in manufacturing, concentrated in sectors like electronic components and semiconductors.

Grkavac told Federal News Radio the latest findings seem to confirm earlier work.

What I think we found is that the same thing we found in the dot com bust: that federal business is good business. That in the recession the federal government continues to spend. That doesn't mean, of course, that there's no impact on government workers or contractors, but it means there's less of an impact, and that the government just has a lot of needs. They need more support and they also need more government workers in the IT sector. So it's very positive even though, not to say there is no impact at all of any downturn.

If nothing else, said Grkavac, "I think it definitely shows why the Northern Virginia, Maryland, DC area have had less...of a reduction" in the employment rate than in other areas of the country with fewer federal workers and contractors.

James said if you drill down even deeper, you can see which federal needs are stoking the IT fires.

We're seeing that the industry both nationally, and if you look at the Capital region, is still really driven by software service, one of the four high-level sectors that we look at. In 2009, although software services saw a decline, the decline nationally was around one percent, compared to a four percent decline in overall high-tech. And we looked at the fourth quarter of 2009 and saw that, actually, software services was starting to add jobs again. It was also the last sector of the four to start shedding jobs. So it looks like software services was the last in and could be the first out of the economic downturn, whereas the other sectors are still struggling.

"Overall," said Grkavac, "the federal government just has such great technology needs that we just see a continued increase in demand for not only more government IT workers, but also more private sector contractor workers."

The Cyberstates 2010 report is produced from data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.