Massive Unemployment and Its Implications for IT Workers
The global economy, and the U.S. economy along with it, has come to a screeching halt. Some of the strongest evidence for this massive breakdown comes in the number of U.S. unemployment claims for the week of April 13-17, which the U.S. Department of Labor reported at 4.4 million for that week.
In fact, according to an NPR story reported live on Thursday, this latest massive figure "brings the total of jobless claims in just five weeks to more than 26 million people." That said, the 4.4 million claims reported for April 13-17 is better than the 5.2 million reported for the preceding week.
All of this is nevertheless a totally grim calculus, as companies must resort to unpaid furloughs and layoffs for staff whom they cannot pay. In all the time that the Bureau of Labor Statistics has been keeping records (which started after the Great Depression), the agency has never seen anything like this. We're in dark, uncharted waters, folks!
I Work in IT. Should I Be Worried?
Generally speaking, the pandemic means there's grounds for concern on all different fronts. My thinking on IT jobs, however, is that your job worries should be correlated with your employer's general business health and viability.
Consider this, too: Even when companies go out of business — and many are doing just that right now — the IT staff (or a skeleton fraction thereof) usually sticks around until the final checks get cut, the doors get closed, and the lights turned off.
And even then, one or more of the IT personnel may be kept on retainer to provide the data necessary to file final tax returns when that time rolls around. Even when a concern stops going, the work of the IT team is still never done.
Tech industry association CompTIA divides its assessment of IT employment into two major buckets. One is called "IT Occupation Employment," and embraces all those who work in or on IT at companies whose primary business is not information technology.
The other is called "IT Sector Employment," and embraces all employees who work at firms that have IT products or services their primary business focus. As of CompTIA's last IT Employment Tracker — which mostly precedes this recent massive uptick in unemployment — the size of the IT Sector workforce was about 4.8 million, and the size of IT Occupation workforce was about 5.7 million for a total of 10.4 million U.S. IT workers of one kind or another, all told.
If you'll indulge me for a moment, and visit the current list of CompTIA Press Releases, you'll see that most of them report "Strong decade of growth" for most U.S. states, and also expansion of tech employment in many U.S. states.
Mostly this is an accident of timing: CompTIA releases employment data from its Cyberstates project around this time each year, and the data was clearly ready to go. Also, this year's data closes out the 2010s, so the scope of their focus is on an entire decade, not just on 2019.
There may, however, be a secondary motive of helping to keep IT pros from completely freaking out. The IT sector overall, and IT occupation jobs in particular, probably aren't quite as threatened as those that require public, face-to-face contact and interaction.
What to Do if You Do Lose Your Job
The first thing to remember is the famous line from The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy: "Don't panic!" The next thing (after you grab your towel) is to ask your erstwhile employer how to go about filing for unemployment. They're supposed to help you get started on this as part of the employment separation process.
When you start looking for new work, remember that remote work/Work from Home (WFH) is the way of the world right now. This can work to your advantage in that you don't need to consider only local jobs. Chances are high that you'll be working from home anyway, so you can greatly expand the scope of your employment search.
If you've got experience and savvy with remote working tools and technologies, then so much the better: these are among the hottest skills to offer prospective employers right now. Likewise, if you've already forged relationships with companies in the IT Sector, it's time to start checking in and asking about work opportunities with them.
Many of these companies are hiring, because they need more help to keep up with demand for their products and services. This is especially true for anything cloud related, including sub-topics such as virtualization, remote access, hyperconvergence, and so forth, along with data acquisition and analytics of all kinds.
Even if You Remain Employed, Remember the Following
Keep calm, and carry on, above all else. Reach out to those you know in the field who may not be so lucky, and see whether you can provide info, input, or news about opportunities where you currently work. We're all in this together, so we must lend a hand where we can, but also not be too proud to ask for help and support when it's needed.
These are tough and uncertain times, indeed. Time's arrow, of course, points in only one direction for us — into the future. Let's keep going and see where it takes us. Stay safe, stay healthy, and carry on, dear readers.
I'm rooting for all of us, and I'm hoping you are, too. Stay tuned! The next jobs report (due out on May 8) should be a real doozy, and I will definitely be covering it here.