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IT Jobs Are Growing: Where is Business Intelligence?

Originally published July 20, 2010

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) is a fascinating organization, especially if you are a business intelligence (BI) practitioner. A part of the Department of Labor, it is the place where you go to look for labor economics and statistics within the federal government. The BLS not only “collects, processes, analyzes, and disseminates essential statistical data” but it supplies this data the other federal agencies, state and local governments and to the public at large.

Furthermore, periodically the BLS produces and publishes statistics that make businesses blink and the markets shudder. Who is unaware, these days, of the importance of the latest unemployment numbers as reported in the Current Population Survey , or consumer buying statistics as reported in the Consumer Expenditure Survey, or the rate of inflation as reported in the Consumer Price Index. All these, of course, are key deliverables of the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Occasionally BLS reports on the state of labor – jobs – in certain industries or parts of the economy. It does this every two years through the publication of the Occupational Outlook Handbook, which includes a lot of information about the type of jobs, working conditions, employment outlook, wage projections, etc. for a large number of occupations. The latest version of the Occupational Outlook Handbook was released in December 2009 and covers the period 2008-2018.

With unemployment near the 10% mark, the Obama Administration has placed substantial emphasis on job creation. This is also politically important given the need to measure the impact of the stimulus package on this all-important indicator of economic growth. As a result, experts have been going over the Handbook with a fine-tooth comb as they look to identify the industries with the highest prospects for job creation. You can imagine that there still is much interest in clean energy and in healthcare.

Yet one of the most remarkable stories that the Handbook data is telling us has to do with the importance that information technology (IT) has had in job creation. What’s more, if you are to believe the BLS, not only have IT jobs grown rapidly in the period observed in the latest Occupational Employment Survey  (1999-2008), but it is quite likely that there will be continued robust growth in IT jobs in the decade ahead.

According to the BLS, 688,000 new IT jobs were created between 1999 and 2008. That is an increase of 26% over the previous period. In addition, if you consider that overall employment grew 6.2% during the same period, it means that IT employment grew over four times as fast. Hence, it is important that we continue investing in this area at a healthy clip.

Now, to truly understand what is happening in IT jobs, you must be able to decipher BLS-speak and their interesting occupational classification. IT jobs are included under the major occupational group named “Professional and Related,” which includes architects, engineers, lawyers, social workers, physicians, nurses and the like. This occupational group, by the way, is projected to be the fastest growing major occupational group (17%) and is forecasted to add about 5.2 million new jobs to the economy in the 2008-2018 decade.

The specific category we want to focus on is that called “computer and mathematical science,” which, as mentioned, is projected to add almost 785,700 new jobs as a group. The BLS states that it is expected to grow at over twice the rate of all other occupations. Why? Because “Demand for workers in computer and mathematical occupations will be driven by the continuing need for businesses, government agencies, and other organizations to adopt and utilize the latest technologies.”

So far so good, but what exactly are these professions? The BLS has integrated the following into the “computer and mathematical science” grouping: actuaries, computer network, systems and database administrators, computer scientists, computer software engineers and computer programmers, computer support specialists, computer systems analysts, mathematicians, operations research analysts and statisticians.

Business intelligence practitioners apparently may fall into any one of a combination of these including the operations research analyst or statistician professions. Given the nature of business intelligence, it is quite understandable, but it may be something the emerging BI community may want to ponder at some point in the future.

That said let’s comment on two other aspects of the IT jobs forecast. The first is that apparently the strong showing caught a number of labor analysts by surprise. There seems to have been many who were concerned that the offshoring phenomenon and the tail of the dot-com bubble bursting would have a much more significant impact. While it is clear that some IT jobs have been outsourced overseas, these were somewhat limited to the programming area, where jobs declined 25% in the last ten years. But the tremendous growth in jobs in two other IT occupation types substantially attenuated that decline. First is jobs that require workers to be either on site or close by, such as network administrators and comput¬er support specialists. The other type includes the higher skilled jobs, such as computer engineers or software and application engineers. These, by the way, also happen to be higher paying and hence also accounted for a new increase in average earnings for IT jobs.

Second, where exactly are the new jobs going to be created? Well, “network systems and data communications analysts” as a group are forecasted to be the second fastest growing occupation (53%) in the 2008-2018 period and “computer software engineers, applications” is also in the Top 20 chart with an expected 34% growth rate. But in terms of actual job contribution to the economy, the BLS projects the following from the full roster of IT professions:

  Source: Projections data from the National Employment Matrix, Bureau of Labor Statistics

It is also important to note that BLS does talk to the fact that the public sector at all levels – federal, state and local governments – will play a role through the establishment of policies that will increase demand for IT jobs. Already in 2008 and 2009, the stimulus package and health reform had a strong influence.

In summary, as we BI practitioners look to the job market as a factor in economic or social analysis, it is important to have a sense of how the IT professions themselves are performing in these times.

  • Dr. Ramon BarquinDr. Ramon Barquin

    Dr. Barquin is the President of Barquin International, a consulting firm, since 1994. He specializes in developing information systems strategies, particularly data warehousing, customer relationship management, business intelligence and knowledge management, for public and private sector enterprises. He has consulted for the U.S. Military, many government agencies and international governments and corporations.

    He had a long career in IBM with over 20 years covering both technical assignments and corporate management, including overseas postings and responsibilities. Afterwards he served as president of the Washington Consulting Group, where he had direct oversight for major U.S. Federal Government contracts.

    Dr. Barquin was elected a National Academy of Public Administration (NAPA) Fellow in 2012. He serves on the Cybersecurity Subcommittee of the Department of Homeland Security’s Data Privacy and Integrity Advisory Committee; is a Board Member of the Center for Internet Security and a member of the Steering Committee for the American Council for Technology-Industry Advisory Council’s (ACT-IAC) Quadrennial Government Technology Review Committee. He was also the co-founder and first president of The Data Warehousing Institute, and president of the Computer Ethics Institute. His PhD is from MIT. 

    Dr. Barquin can be reached at rbarquin@barquin.com.

    Editor's note: More articles from Dr. Barquin are available in the BeyeNETWORK's Government Channel


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