Information Technology: The State of Affairs for Blacks
When the Black Data Processors Association convened in Dallas this past August for its annual conference, high on its agenda were entrepreneurship and career vitality. Given projections for the industry’s growth, the underrepresentation of African-American professionals and entrepreneurs in the field and the outsourcing of IT jobs offshore, those priorities were right on target for the 29-year-old group, the premier association for African-American information technology professionals.
Take entrepreneurship. Rudy Duke, president and CEO of the consulting firm NexTium Solutions and executive director of the BDPA Education & Technology Foundation, says minorities tend to do well in technology, but most contracts go to Asians, with East Indians getting the lion’s share. Why? “These are U.S.-based companies that have the following infrastructure: They’ve gotten the “formula” down on how to get contracts; they share contacts and have collaborative networks; they have good technical training,” Duke argues in the July issue of BDPA’s newsletter.
Some entrepreneurs do not have the necessary certification to bid on certain contracts. Of the Black respondents in a survey conducted by redIbis, an umbrella group of minority IT and technology businesses and organizations, 86 percent say they were not certified as a minority business enterprise, or MBE, effectively eliminating them from bidding on many private-sector and government contracts. The federal government spent about $49 billion on IT alone in 2002, and that figure is expected to grow to $65 billion within four years. Few Blacks are earning that money. In fact, 66 percent of Black respondents in the redIbis survey said they have never bid on a government contract.
Certified MBEs, for example, can take advantage of the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Commerce Information Technology Solutions (COMMITS) program, a multimillion-dollar solutions-based IT Government-Wide Acquisition Contract set-aside for small and minority business to provide information technology services and solutions to all federal agencies. The program provides performance-based IT services and solutions in three major functional areas: information systems engineering support solutions, information systems security support solutions, and systems operations and maintenance support solutions.
In the redIbis survey, of the 86 percent not certified, 14 percent said they did not know where to apply for such certification; 11 percent said they had never heard of certification; 12 percent said the certification process is too cumbersome; and 15 percent said they did not see the benefit of certification. Only 6 percent said they planned to get the certification.
The redIbis survey was conducted between the end of 2003 and early 2004 among minority technology professionals and entrepreneurs in the New York tristate area. It has a 2 percent to 3 percent margin of error. Black respondents included those who identified themselves as African-American, African and Caribbean Black.
The Professional Picture
The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that the number of IT jobs will grow slightly more than 7 percent a year between 1998 and 2008. But between 1996 and 2002 alone, the percentage of African-Americans in the IT work force fell to 8.2 percent from 9.1 percent, the Information Technology Association of America reported in April. Other ethnic minorities fared better in the same period. The percentage of Hispanic-American IT workers rose to 6.3 percent from 5.4 percent; Native Americans to 0.6 percent from 0.2 percent; and Asian-Americans to 11.8 percent from 8.9 percent, ITAA said.
The organization contends that not enough qualified Blacks are in the pipeline for IT jobs. “Until our education system produces more qualified candidates, these percentages of IT workers are not likely to improve significantly,” ITAA President Harris N. Miller says. Even so, the redIbis survey shows Blacks in 20 different IT professions, ranging from health-care IT administration, education and training, Web production and consulting to banking technology, aerospace defense and software development.
Information technology is a $2.5 trillion–plus global industry, and the United States is the largest single customer of IT products and services. Demand continues to grow for skilled IT professionals “because IT products and services—and the workers who provide them—are found throughout the economy,” the Bureau of Labor Statistics says. Indeed, labor experts say demand for computer-related occupations will increase as a result of rapid advances in computer technology, continuing development of new computer applications and the growing importance of information security. Some even argue that the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ projection that the number of jobs for computer system analysts and computer engineers and scientists will double between 1998 and 2008 is too low.
In their outlook for IT, the Bureau of Labor Statistics and ITAA cite the following figures:
- IT is the fastest-growing sector in the economy, with a 68% growth in output projected between 2002 and 2012.
- There were 10.3 million IT workers at the beginning of 2003, up 4.2% from the start of 2002 (Information Technology Association of America).
- The IT industry is expected to add 632,000 new jobs between 2002 and 2012, an increase of 18%.
- Computer programming jobs will increase by about 29 percent between 1998 and 2008.
- Seven of the 30 fastest-growing occupations are expected to be IT-related, with a projected average employment growth rate of 43%.
While most IT professionals work in computer services firms, many can be found in other industries. Health care, for example, is rapidly adopting IT solutions to meet a host of challenges, from regulatory to cost reduction and patient care, the ITAA says. Some of these IT solutions include computerized physician order entry initiatives, electronic medical records and electronic claims processing. Indeed, IT spending in the United States among health-care providers is projected to reach $17.3 billion in 2007 from $15.1 billion in 2002.
Coping With “Offshoring”
Forty-nine percent of the Black respondents in the redIbis survey say global outsourcing, or offshoring, has limited their ability to find work. Research firms tracking the movement of U.S. jobs offshore now say that by 2005, 40 percent more white-collar jobs than previously expected will move to low-cost labor sites overseas, such as China, India and Mexico. IT work will continue to be a prime candidate for that shift, they say. TowerGroup, for example, reports that the top 15 U.S. financial institutions spent some $1 billion last year on IT offshoring and will probably spend $2.5 billion per year by 2008.
“The facts are that some IT services will no longer be performed within companies in the United States,” says Will Bundy, national BDPA outside director. In a BDPA newsletter, he advises those affected to sharpen their individual skills, seek alternative career paths and recognize that the key to continued employment and personal growth is delivery of needed services to a customer or employer. “As individuals we must understand our ‘brand’ and what it is we have to offer. All of us must work to create a personal ‘brand’ that delivers what our employers or customers need. If employers no longer need maintenance programmers and you are a maintenance programmer, you are in a low-demand job. You need to change your brand,” Bundy says.
Securing the Pipeline
Education, training and mentoring are priorities at redIbis, BDPA and the National Association of Black Telecommunications Professionals, which serves Blacks in IT’s sister industry. The concern is to “make sure we’re building a pipeline of future leaders who look like me,” Rodney C. Adkins, vice president for development at IBM Systems & Technology Group, told The Network Journal earlier this year. US Black Engineer and Information Technology magazine this year named Adkins one of the 50 most important African-Americans in technology.
By Salome Kilkenny