Six months after I spoke with Rich Milgram, founder and CEO of the career site Beyond.com, I checked back in with him to see whether his prognosis for an economic recovery had changed. Milgram said last summer that recovery would come—but very slowly. In our recent conversation, he stood by his original assessment but added that the recovery will include some additional bumps along the way for IT professionals.

      “The characterization of this economic recovery as jobless is not inaccurate,” Milgram said. “Jobs have been the laggard. But there are certainly more opportunities than there were six months ago.”

      According to outplacement company Challenger, Gray & Christmas, the pace of downsizing slowed for most industries in 2010, but the technology industry—including computers, electronics, and telecommunications—fared better than most. About 46,825 technology jobs were cut in 2010, a 73 percent decrease from the 174,629 technology jobs cut in 2009. Job losses across all industries declined about 59 percent in 2010. Job losses declined sharply in the last half of 2010. As a historical note, tech job cuts represented 8.8 percent of the total job cuts in 2010. In 2001, at the height of the dot.com bust, technology job cuts represented 36 percent of job cuts. 

      Although the pace of job cuts is slowing, the job market still needs to catch up. Milgram said that many companies moved through a predictable cycle from slashing budgets through employee cuts to hiring lower-level IT employees.

      “Now companies are in a sort of middle phase, where they’re willing to spend a bit more to get employees who can more adequately do what the business requires,” he said. “But companies certainly aren’t hiring just for the sake of hiring. They’re looking to grow—but extremely thoughtfully. There needs to be demonstrated ROI with every hire.”

      Companies have a relatively easy time justifying hiring IT professionals who can plan and implement hardware solutions, for example.

      “If hardware specialists can demonstrate that they bring assets to the table, they can help their companies save money and produce more,” Milgram said. “That’s a much cleaner decision point. Talented hardware and infrastructure people provide cost benefits to companies.”

      Software specialists can also provide critical benefits if they can bring a combination of business value—knowledge of the company’s core business processes—and technical skills. In addition, Milgram pointed to content and social media data analysis as areas with promising job prospects. According to Challenger, Gray & Christmas, mobile technology will be a strong area of growth within the technology sector, particularly with the proliferation of smart phones and tablet PCs.

      “In all industries, content and social media are extremely relevant to any company,” Milgram said. Content delivered through mobile applications will continue to be a big focal point for any business.

      “Every company needs to think about a mobile strategy,” Milgram said. “But you don’t have to go out with too much—just start to test the waters by building that first app.”

      About 700,000 people have downloaded the Beyond.com mobile application. Although people think about email, the Internet, and mobile applications as different things, he said that IT pros looking for job opportunities should view these as simply different vantage points for content use.

      Milgram reiterated his observation from six months ago that as technology becomes easier to use and manage, the IT industry will experience downward pressure on IT-related jobs and compensation.

      “We’ll likely continue to see people paying less for consultants now than they did in 2000,” he said. “As the technology industry evolves, it’s easier to keep salaries at a certain level. We might be seeing more hiring, but we won’t see a big bounce-back in salaries.”

      Salary challenges notwithstanding, technology jobs are expected to increase not only in the next year but throughout the next decade, according to Challenger, Gray & Christmas. In particular, technologists with skills in network and data communications analysis will be in demand. Despite the decline in job cuts, finding a job will continue to be a challenge, and IT pros need to maintain a balance between specialization and general job skills.

      One sure way to open more doors is to network. We at Windows IT Pro and our sister publications at Penton Media are producing a conference next month that will help you sharpen your skills in developing and deploying mobile applications, planning and implementing cloud computing strategies, and deploying virtualization solutions. Check it out at http://www.theconversationbeginshere.com/.