The "high tech industry" lost half a million jobs last year and will be down another 300,000 before things start to get better.
About 12 percent of the nation's high-tech jobs have evaporated during the past two years, but the meltdown appears to be in its final stages, according to an industry report to be released Wednesday.
After wiping out 540,000 jobs in 2002, high-tech employers are on pace to lay off another 234,000 workers this year, based on figures compiled by the AeA, a trade group formerly known as the American Electronics Association.
Based on the AeA's estimates, the high-tech industry will end this year with about 5.73 million workers, down from 6.5 million employees at the end of 2001.
The 2002 contraction included 146,000 job losses in the software sector, the first time employment in that high-tech niche has fallen in the seven years that AeA has been compiling its state-of-the-industry report.
The AeA depicted this year's work force erosion as an encouraging sign, noting that the projected job losses represent a significant improvement from the 2002 purge.
With the improving economy helping boost corporate spending on computer hardware and software, the high-tech industry should begin adding jobs during the spring, predicted William Archey, the AeA's president and chief executive officer.
"There isn't going to be a massive infusion of new jobs right away because companies have gotten used to operating leaner and meaner," Archey said during an interview.
Although they remain cautious, high-tech companies attending a recent AeA conference in San Diego were in a better mood than at any time since the industry's painful comedown began in late 2000, Archey said. "Companies have gone from being clinically depressed to rather upbeat."
More often than ever, the software development and management once handled by the internal IT departments of financial services companies, for example, are now contracted to another company, one with supervisors managing the work in the United States and other workers writing the code halfway around the world.
This growing trend is reshaping the local economy, one just emerging from recession and still plagued with the highest unemployment in nearly a decade. A layer of once-abundant midlevel IT jobs is drying up, leaving workers to re-engineer their skills to secure a place in the next cycle of the Massachusetts economy, a cycle that has no clear direction yet.
As smart U.S. companies outsource standard high-tech work, they're simultaneously shifting their in-house IT employees to more innovative, higher value-added functions, such as invention, creation, integration, key R&D and basic architecture. These core creative activities are at the heart of these companies' competitive futures. They know they have to nourish them.
The third and most basic reason why high-tech work won't shift abroad is that high technology isn't a sector like manufacturing or an industry like telecommunications. High-tech work entails innovation. It's about discovering and solving problems. There's no necessary limit to the number of high-tech jobs around the world because there's no finite limit to the ingenuity of the human mind. And there's no limit to human needs.
I don't have an answer to this. It's something I've been struggling with in my own professional life. I just have too many unemployed and nervously-employed friends to feel any optimism right now. If there is a next big thing coming, I sure hope it gets here soon.Posted by Charles Kuffner on November 19, 2003 to Bidness | TrackBack