- The Washington Times - Monday, October 5, 2009

If you’re looking for work in the tech services sector, Todd Thibodeaux has good news for you: There are jobs to be had, and the sector is poised for continued growth.

“Other than health care, information technology has more jobs open than any other sector,” Mr. Thibodeaux, who has completed 15 months as president and chief executive officer of CompTIA, said over breakfast at the Grand Hyatt Washington last Monday.

The trade group he heads, which includes computer service firms, distributors, vendors and others, bills itself as “the voice of the world’s information technology (IT) industry.” The group also offers a range of “vendor neutral” IT certifications that are well regarded as job-boosting credentials.

Although based on Oak Brook, Ill., a Chicago suburb, Mr. Thibodeaux is no stranger to Washington, having spent 17 years with the Arlington-based Consumer Electronics Association, most recently as that group’s senior vice president of industry relations.

Although the first two quarters of 2009 for CompTIA’s members were “very poor” — with the second quarter “the worst in history” — there are bright spots, Mr. Thibodeaux said. Managed service providers, or MSPs, particularly those serving small- and medium-sized businesses, have “held up” in the tight economy, he noted. In fact, these firms “haven’t touched the tip of the iceberg” when it comes to bringing in new business. And that, he said, is where employment opportunities may be found.

Such a development would be rather timely: The U.S. Department of Labor on Thursday said initial claims for state unemployment benefits rose to a seasonally adjusted 551,000 last week from 534,000 in the previous week, meaning 17,000 people became newly unemployed in the period. As companies move from having in-house IT departments to contracting out to an MSP, some IT professionals who’ve only worked inside will be job-hunting, however.

“If you’ve been providing value all along” to an employer, Mr. Thibodeaux asserted, “you’d have the skill set of tools to adjust very well to an MSP.” However, he added, today’s programmers “need a more diverse skill set than they had 10 to 15 years ago.”

Dislocation and “reinvention” can be tough for anyone — ask a Saturn automobile worker about that prospect — but in the IT field, the shift to a different workplace, where you’re dealing with a host of clients, can bring satisfaction, he said.

Joining an MSP, Mr. Thibodeaux said, can give a once-isolated IT worker “the opportunity to be part of a team, and potentially a more fulfilling career,” and one where your horizons are more broadly “professional and more technical rather than being pigeonholed.”

The market is large enough, Mr. Thibodeaux asserts: Spending on IT products and services in the U.S. totals about $120 billion a year, one-third the world’s total. Dell Inc.’s recent purchase of Perot Systems, and Xerox’s $6.4 billion move last week to grab Affiliated Computer Services, both show growth in the sector, he agreed.

Also, employment potential isn’t limited to newly minted college grads, either. As the work force starts to shrink as “baby boomers” begin to retire, Mr. Thibodeaux predicts a “high demand” for those with certain skills on legacy and other systems, including lots of part-time opportunities for those retirees wishing to keep a hand in.

“There will be chances for retired ‘boomers,’” he said. “There will be an opportunity for someone to come in.” He ticked off a list of potential projects where IT help will be needed: smart buildings, the next-generation power grid and, of course, the health care sector, which, he said, “will be one of the strongest.”

While government IT spending may or may not eclipse health care, Mr. Thibodeaux said such spending “will be extremely strong” in the coming years, especially since “60 percent of [economic] stimulus money will be spent in 2010.” What CompTIA is looking for is a “better [framework] for how small companies can participate in all of this.”

What that means, of course, is that Mr. Thibodeaux, who said he misses the diversity of dining in the D.C. area, likely will return here often to press his association members’ cause. More information on the group can be found at www.comptia.org.

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