Mid-skill employment opportunities ripe in information technology
Charlotte Works is pleased to continue a new feature, Workforce By The Numbers, which will spotlight workforce research from around the region. Data and analysis will be provided through our partnership with the Charlotte Chamber.
Like healthcare, information technology (IT) is a vibrant sector that offers ample career pathways and opportunities for employees across a wide range of skill levels and educational attainments.
The term “information technology” has evolved over time, first appearing in a 1958 edition of the Harvard Business Review when referring to a type of technology that did not yet have an official term attached to it. The Information Technology Association of America defines IT as “the study, design, development, implementation, support or management of computer-based information.”
IT is unique in that it is best explained at the occupational level, since IT workers are needed and (and can be found) in almost every industry. The pace of technological change and ongoing training are conducive to an environment of “middle-skills” employment, or those jobs requiring some college, a two-year degree or certification. Nationally, nearly 30 percent of IT jobs require some college or an associate’s degree.
Four of the 14 occupations defining IT employment in our 10-county region are considered middle-skill: web developers, network/computer systems administrators, computer user support specialists and computer network support specialists. Of the 35,679 employees found in all IT occupations, 10,965 are considered middle-skill workers.
Middle-skills IT jobs have a median hourly wage of $29.22, significantly higher than the median hourly wage of $19.51 for occupations across all sectors, but less than the median hourly wage of $40.48 for all IT employees. This means that mid-skills IT workers not only enjoy relatively high starting wages, but also significant earning potential as they flourish in the field.
The real story is in the growth. Over the last five years, these occupations grew by nearly 15 percent in our region, adding 1,358 new jobs and outpacing the United States (10.3 percent).
During a period when all occupations in our region grew by nearly 10 percent, middle-skills IT occupations increased an additional five percent.
From 2009 through 2014, the fastest-growing IT occupation in our region by number of jobs added was computer user support specialist at 741. Nearly half of these workers have an associate’s degree or some college but no degree. Meanwhile, the region’s highest-growth-rate-by-percentage IT occupation was web developers at 31 percent. Just over a quarter of web developers have an associate’s degree or some college and the Bureau of Labor Statistics lists an associate’s degree as the entry level of education for this occupation.
In 2013, 27 institutions in our region awarded 929 IT-related degrees and certificates. Of these, 488 (53 percent) were associate’s degrees or certifications of less than two years.
Over the past year, employers hired more than 500 new workers per month in IT middle-skills jobs. The lion’s share of these jobs was found in Internet publishing and broadcasting, computer system design and temporary job placement agencies. (For many IT positions, particularly during economic recoveries, it’s commonplace for companies to use IT placement agencies for their unique expertise in the field.) Financial services, real estate and logistics firms are absorbing many of the recent IT hires via the placement agencies.
The bottom line is that the future employment opportunities in mid-skill IT occupations in our region are bright. Our unique assets (low cost of living, high quality of life, business-friendly environment) will continue to foster opportunities as companies expand and relocate headquarters, back offices and operations here. Additionally, we’re fortunate to have educational institutions that understand the economic landscape and labor market to develop a strong homegrown talent pool.
Paul E. Hendershot serves as director of research at the Charlotte Chamber of Commerce. Prior to joining the Charlotte Chamber team, he worked as manager of business development in the commercial real estate department at Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport (DFW) and spent four years as the research director at the Dallas Regional Chamber. During his tenure with the Chamber, Hendershot completed more than 100 unique economic development projects including Comerica, AT&T, Gulfstream, Arbitron, Capital One and Research in Motion. He is also founder and chief economist of Hendershot Economics, where he defined the life sciences industry for BIOCOM, among other projects in the Greater San Diego region.
Data included in this article is inclusive of North Carolina’s Southwest Region Prosperity Zone, which includes Anson, Cabarrus, Cleveland, Gaston, Iredell, Lincoln, Mecklenburg, Rowan, Stanly and Union counties.