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01:20 PM

Demand for Cybersecurity Jobs Declines But Still Outperforms Other Sectors

While companies are cutting back on plans to hire, cybersecurity and the technology industry as a whole are doing better than the general economy.

While technology and cybersecurity workers have not managed to dodge the economic carnage of the past two months, employment and hiring in those sectors have weathered the coronavirus pandemic much better than other areas of the economy, according to government data and business-intelligence firms.

The market for technology and cybersecurity professionals declined by almost 30% from its baseline activity at the same time a year ago, according to jobs site Indeed.com. Because hiring has plummeted in general, however, technology and cybersecurity account for more of the current job-market activity. The two sectors' share of job postings on Indeed.com rose about 11% since the beginning of February, while the share of clicks on those postings — a measure of relative demand — rose at least 23%, according to Indeed.

Software development jobs, a good stand-in for technology jobs in general, has also dropped significantly, says Nick Bunker, an economist at Indeed.

"The trend in software development jobs is negative at this point ... but software development jobs are holding up better than the overall labor market," he says. "Job seeker interest in tech job postings is growing faster than interest in all postings, [and] interest in cybersecurity postings has grown about the same pace."

The coronavirus pandemic and stay-at-home orders are decimating the US economy. For the week ending April 18, another 4.4 million workers filed for unemployment benefits, bringing the total number of jobless claims to 26 million in the past month, the US Labor Department said today.

Unemployment numbers for industry sectors are not readily available. The most recent industry-specific data available from the government — from the second week in March — showed early signs of the impact of the coronavirus pandemic and the beginnings of the shutdown, with unemployment rising to 4.4% in March, up from 3.5% in February. Technology professionals fared better than the economy overall with unemployment in computer- and math-related occupations rising to 2.4%, while salaried employees in the information economy essentially maintained full employment with a 1.8% unemployment rate.

Yet, since that March report, conditions have worsened and workers at many companies have felt the effect, says Jim Johnson, senior vice president for Robert Half Technology, an employment-intelligence firm.

"There is a pendulum swing that has happened," he says. "It used to be, 'Oh, my gosh, we have all these projects and we can't get enough people,' and that has become — three or four weeks ago — companies furloughing employees and figuring out how to make this work. Now most companies have settled in to where they need to be."

The forced move to remote work has changed the economic landscape because only about a third of jobs can plausibly be accomplished from home, with high-tech jobs the most suited to remote work, according to a study by the University of Chicago. Because technology workers and cybersecurity professionals are part of the minority of workers who can work remotely, areas like Silicon Valley — where 48% of jobs can be done remotely — will likely weather the pandemic better than other locales.

Companies will have to adapt to the new reality, where foot traffic might not bring in enough business. Brick-and-mortar companies with an online presence will have to switch gears and become online companies with a brick-and-mortar presence, says Simone Petrella, CEO and co-founder at CyberVista, a cybersecurity workforce development company. 

"My overall take is as this situation continues to unfold, industries and businesses at large are facing the new reality that they have to future-proof their operations," she says. "Doing so will make us increasingly reliant on network professionals as security professionals focus on enabling the other workers."

While companies may find the pool of potential candidates has increased, Petrella stresses that companies should also look at developing internal candidates by teaching them the necessary cybersecurity roles.

For job seekers, staying in place has the benefit of stability. Moving from support into cybersecurity, for example, develops workers' skills while satisfying business demands, says Robert Half's Johnson.

"People are far less likely to switch jobs during recessions and periods of economic distress," he says. "Part of that factor is that job seekers don't want to take a big risk right now. Firms are hiring less right now, so job seekers might not even have the same opportunity to find a new job as in the past."

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Veteran technology journalist of more than 20 years. Former research engineer. Written for more than two dozen publications, including CNET News.com, Dark Reading, MIT's Technology Review, Popular Science, and Wired News. Five awards for journalism, including Best Deadline ... View Full Bio

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