Technology

Recession-Proof Jobs


A new report shows that tech-related positions are safe bets right now, especially software developer. But sales is solid, too

These are tough times for job seekers. The U.S. unemployment rate held steady in June at 5.5%, the highest rate since October 2004. The outlook is especially bleak in residential construction and automobiles, and for workers without a college degree.

But there are employment bright spots, particularly in technology, according to a new report by job listings company Jobfox. Tech-related jobs figure prominently on Jobfox's list of 20 "recession-proof" occupations. Among the most sought-after positions are software developer, which ranked No. 2; system administrator, who manages increasingly complex corporate networks, at No. 6; and quality-assurance tester, who designs automated processes for testing products, at No. 12. Technology executive, particularly chief technology officer, was ranked No. 16.

Stay Away from Housing

The most in-demand job is sales representative, a sign that employers remain optimistic about their prospects, says CEO Rob McGovern. "The fact that companies are hiring salespeople tells us that they think they can grow out of this recession," McGovern says. "In the sectors where there isn't an opportunity for top-line growth, those companies are cutting." Washington-based Jobfox compiles a monthly list of the professions in greatest demand by recruiters and other employer agents. It mined that data over the eight-month period from November 2007 through July 7, 2008, to compile a list of the 20 jobs with the best median monthly rankings.

Jobfox was launched last year by McGovern, who also founded CareerBuilder, a job site he sold in 2002 to Tribune Co. and Knight-Ridder.

Shane Greenstein, a professor at Northwestern University's Kellogg School of Management, concurs that technology jobs have been immune to this slowdown. "The closer you get to the housing sector, the more you're in trouble," McGovern says. "But the rest of the economy seems to be shrugging it off."

Schooling Helps

Growing, cash-rich tech companies may fare particularly well, Greenstein says. "An established company in a growth area that has its act together is in a good position now," Greenstein says, singling out Google (GOOG), Microsoft (MSFT), Apple (AAPL), Oracle (ORCL), IBM (IBM), and Intel (INTC) as examples of tech companies that are unlikely to take a big hit. Indeed, on July 15, chipmaking colossus Intel said its second-quarter profit surged 25% (BusinessWeek.com, 7/15/08) amid resilient demand for PCs and consumer electronics. "We see continued healthy demand for our products" in coming quarters, CEO Paul Otellini said in a statement.

Another way to recession-proof a job is through education and experience, figures show. The unemployment figure for those with college degrees was at 2.3% in June, compared with 2.0% a year earlier, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Among management and professional occupations the unemployment rate was 2.7% in June. It was 9.1% for construction and maintenance occupations.

To be sure, the outlook for tech could dim in the event of an extended economic contraction, says Jim Wilcox, an economist at Berkeley's Haas School of Business. Much of the tech industry has benefited in part from the dollar's weakness, which makes U.S. goods less expensive to overseas buyers. "If in fact you have a more serious recession, it is bound to take its toll on business budgets for equipment purchases," Wilcox says. "And when budgets get cut and people can't buy new hardware and software, that's got to hurt Silicon Valley."

For now, the pain is subdued in Silicon Valley, in particular among software developers, Greenstein says. "[At] the high end of that business, those guys are pretty much recession-proof."

Business Exchange related topics:

Recession Job Search

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Sun is an intern in BusinessWeek.com's San Mateo bureau.

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