If there's one thing I've never had any patience for, it's the bashing of IT as a promising career field in general, and dissuading our kids from pursuing a career in IT in particular. As I've noted on numerous occasions, part of the problem lies in the continuing failure of a lot of people to distinguish between the idea of a shortage of IT workers, and that of a shortage of needed IT skills, which are two entirely different things. Another contributing factor, which clearly needs to be corrected, is the U.S. government's failure to update the way it classifies IT career fields so that accurate information about IT job availability is disseminated.
An outspoken critic of the government's failure in that regard is David Foote, CEO of Foote Partners, an IT employment analysis firm. In a recent interview with Computerworld, Foote explained the crux of the problem:
It begins with the Labor Department's Standard Occupational Classification system, which was updated in 2010 but still defines IT much the same as back in the old pure-technology MIS departments -- administrators, engineers, programmers, developers, analysts, user support and various infrastructure specialists. All federal employment reports map to the SOC's ancient IT model, which means only a small portion of the modern IT professional workforce is actually identified and tracked in these reports -- barely 20%, to be precise, and that's if you include tech consulting and temporary staffing jobs. [The SOC system does not] properly identify and track 16 million other people in the U.S. who bring various blends of technology skills, subject matter expertise and business savvy to their jobs in corporate functions, departments, product groups, business lines and other areas. These are IT professionals in 2011. Let's face it: IT jobs and skills have been migrating outside the walls of the traditional IT department for years, from administrative to executive levels. Marketing specialists, sales engineers, business analysts, logistics experts and even vice presidents of operations can now show impressive IT resumes. The list goes on and on. You'd think the government would have heard of social media, mobile computing, data analytics, collaboration technology and ERP by now.
Foote did a great job of explaining why all of this matters:
The traditional part of the IT workforce was hit pretty hard by the recession, spurring debate about whether IT is still a viable profession. But when you look at how great the other 80% of IT professionals are doing, the notion of a jobless recovery or weakness in demand for IT skills and workers is utterly ridiculous.
The intensity of the debate is the other reason why we have to get this right. As the boomers start to retire in big numbers, we can't afford to let young workers coming into the workforce mistakenly think that there aren't enormous IT job and career opportunities available to them. The bottom line is that there's never been a better time in history to be starting or building an IT career than right now, nor one with as many entry points and options. Once you grasp the reality of how much the label "IT professional" has changed, it becomes pretty obvious.
Foote is exactly right: There indeed has never been a better time for the generation of young people entering college and the work force to choose IT as their career. A lot of kids are passionate about technology and are convinced it's their calling. So let's do them-and our society-a favor and encourage them. Yes, there are obstacles, and yes, there are injustices that desperately need to be corrected. But let's not teach our kids that the answers to our problems lie in running away from them, or in waving a dispirited flag of surrender.