Coders, systems architects and other IT professionals are hoping that technology jobs lost in the economic crisis will be regained as Recovery Act funding is invested in information technology projects such as a smart power grid and other sustainability initiatives, healthcare information technology and beyond.
Even for financial IT specialists, there is hope. “The finance industry won’t be so high-flying, but a lot of IT skills will be transportable to other industries,” says Laurence Shatkin, senior product developer with JIST Publishing and author of Great Jobs in the President’s Stimulus Plan.
Some even see a boom ahead in certain areas of IT, as the federal government pours billions into strategic initiatives aimed at bringing structural change to the American economy.
“Healthcare and sustainable-energy technologies will be to the IT job market what financial services was in the 1990s, but more so,” says Jason Hill, managing partner for search and staffing firm Sound Advice Consulting Services.
Putting the Smart in Smart Grid
President Barack Obama’s approach to energy can be summed up this way: “Smarter energy, not more.” Putting dollars behind that thought, the stimulus makes major investments in energy, including $30 billion for a smart electric power grid.
What will be so smart about the next-generation grid? For one thing, it will be designed to handle the inconsistent electricity production inherent in wind and solar power generation. And designing and building such a grid will require a lot of powerful systems engineering, in terms of both electricity and information.
“To the extent that the grid is smart, it’s going to have to have IT,” Shatkin says. “The grid has got to be less vulnerable to terrorist attack. It should let homeowners sell their solar energy [back] to the grid.”
What IT and related professionals will be required? These positions include systems analysts, network architects, statistical modelers, software engineers and developers, as well as computer scientists to create algorithms for optimal transmission and distribution of power.
IT savvy will also be needed in the design of home energy networks and even appliances, such as washing machines that turn themselves on automatically at times of day when electric demand and rates are low.
The economic stimulus also includes $7 billion to improve broadband access and extend coverage in rural areas. This investment will create jobs in networking, telecom and related disciplines.
Healthcare IT Jobs Will Multiply
The Recovery Act also seeks to promote the recovery and rehabilitation of our healthcare system, with $19 billion for health information technology (HIT), including electronic medical records (EMRs).
This infusion will create thousands of IT jobs as the effort ramps up. “We’ve penetrated 15 percent to 20 percent of physicians’ offices,” says Scott Decker, senior vice president of NextGen Healthcare Information Systems, a provider of EMR systems. With the backing of stimulus funding, “this should go to 80 percent to 90 percent over the next five years.” Decker expects a “bubble” of hiring for two to three years in systems implementation, consulting and training positions.
HIT job opportunities will increase in areas including bioinformatics and data storage. Many IT jobs in healthcare won’t look much different from their counterparts in other industries. Software developers, systems integrators and IT trainers will be hired in substantial numbers, according to Decker.
Information security professionals will also see rising demand for their services in the healthcare industry. “With medical records, security and privacy are particularly sensitive,” Shatkin says. “This will create a need for specialized computer security workers.”
Broader IT Jobs Across the Economy
Other Recovery Act spending will create IT jobs across the economy. When large infrastructure and construction projects are initiated, for example, computer-aided design and project management come into play. Upgrades of massive government information systems -- the pending $990 million upgrade of the Social Security Administration’s systems being a prime example -- will also require volumes of IT talent.
Even beleaguered financial services companies will ultimately begin to reinvest in IT. “Banks have gotten federal money to shore up their businesses,” says Michael Croy, director of business-continuity solutions at Forsythe Solutions Group. They’re using the money to hire IT contractors and full-time people to bolster their IT infrastructure and carry out systems integrations needed to acquire institutions that couldn’t survive the financial crisis on their own, Croy says.