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Local economy benefits from steady supply of IT professionals

The vibrant and diverse San Diego County economy, distinguished by an abundance of high-tech, telecom and biomedical companies, is projected to continue its impressive growth through 2012 and there is little doubt that information technology -- and those who work in the field -- will play a critical role.

Many of the area's largest employers, including Sharp Healthcare, Qualcomm (Nasdaq: QCOM), Pacific Bell and SAIC, will rely on a deep pool of local talent to fill an increasing number of well-paying computer and IT jobs.

These companies will need a steady stream of trained and certified IT professionals if they are to maintain performance and strategically plan for an even more productive and promising future. It will be the computer training centers that have emerged over the past few years providing the bulk of this much-needed talent.

The demand for employees is on the rise, particularly in the high-tech, telecom, electronics and biomedical industries because those sectors are experiencing rapid growth due to the increased demand for their products and services from both consumers and business.

The number of jobs in high-tech alone currently represents 16 percent of San Diego's total employment picture, according to statistics from the San Diego Regional Economic Development Corp. (SDREDC). But there's also hefty demand in many other jobs, from retail to real estate and practically everything in between, because of the increased prevalence of technology in the world today.

"The rapid spread of computers and information technology has created a demand for highly trained professionals who can design, implement and maintain complex information systems and incorporate these systems into new and existing businesses," explained Darren Waddell, a career placement adviser for Miramar-based MicroSkills, one of the area's leading suppliers of certified IT professionals. "This is especially true in San Diego, where there is a concentration of industries that rely heavily on information technology. Those industries are creating tremendous demand for jobs as networking professionals, technical support, inter-and intranet development, database management and applications development."

According to statistics provided by the California Employment Development Department (EDD), 11 of the top 15 fastest growing occupations in San Diego County are in the computer and IT industries. In addition, the U.S. Department of Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics indicates that this industry is projected to experience the fastest wage and salary employment growth through 2010, nearly doubling from 2.1 million jobs to almost 4 million.

Waddell says these jobs are paying extremely well, even for entry-level type positions.

For example, the median hourly wage for a San Diego County information systems manager in 2004 is $44.92 with an annual salary of more than $93,000. San Diego-area database administrators can expect to earn more than $57,000 annually, network and computer systems administrators around $70,000 and computer hardware engineers almost $90,000. These figures were released by the EDD in June 2004 following its Occupational Employment Statistics (OES) survey.

From an economic impact standpoint, higher paying jobs allow individuals the opportunity to consume additional goods and services, which contributes dollars to the area's economic base in the form of sales taxes and an increased gross regional product.

According to figures provided by the SDREDC, San Diego's gross regional product was just $66 billion in 1991. But it exceeded $126 billion in 2002, providing strong evidence of increased spending consistent with this industry's sustained growth even during a prolonged nationwide recession.

San Diego County has a history of being somewhat recession-resistant due to its diverse economy and varied employment profile, as well as its relatively low unemployment rate as a result of the proliferation of jobs in the technology sector.

Because of the ready supply of qualified IT professionals, the increasing number of successful, financially solvent companies in this industry and related sectors further insulates the local economy because of the jobs and tax contributions they provide.

With the demand for quality workers remaining strong, the employment outlook, an important indicator of the area's economic health, is rosy for the foreseeable future.

According to the EDD, San Diego County's overall employment is expected to jump 15 percent by 2008, an increase of nearly 187,000 jobs, and all major industries are expected to experience gains. Many of those jobs will require the skills of highly trained and certified IT professionals.

Waddell says that as the region continues to experience robust economic health, more startup companies and entrepreneurs are drawn here to take advantage of a well-educated, highly productive work force, appealing climate and renowned quality of life.

Individual and business investments will be made in companies deciding to establish or relocate their businesses here, adding further demand to an already healthy job market, contributing more dollars in taxes and boosting the area's gross regional product.

"The occupations in these clusters are crucial to the area's economic well being both now and in the future," said Michael Schuermer, director of research for the SDREDC. "They pay well above the median wage for all jobs, and in many cases twice as much. Not only do they provide a good living and a strong multiplier effect as the wages ripple through the economy, but their numbers and prominence helps define San Diego County as a region of innovation and that, in turn, helps foster even more growth in our cutting edge industries."

Unquestionably, the burgeoning size of the IT industry has created a more diverse range and sheer number of positions than existed previously. But the likelihood exists for a potentially negative impact on the economy if businesses in this industry didn't have an ample supply of qualified IT professionals from colleges and certified training centers.

"Filling these jobs with qualified workers -- and, by extension, the resulting success of our high-tech companies -- would be impossible without quality educational institutions to prepare that work force," Schuermer said.


Barrett is head writer at Beck Ellman Heald public relations.

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