BOX 2.4 Size of the Hardware IT Workforce

The number of people working in hardware in the IT sector is much more difficult to estimate than the number working in software. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) captures software workers as “computer scientists, systems analysts, and computer programmers,” all of whom can work for software vendors or other IT-intensive firms that make use of software. IT does not, however, capture any IT occupations that are unique to IT hardware.

The National Science Foundation's SESTAT database does include the category “computer hardware engineer,” but that category does not necessarily include the circuit and chip designers, manufacturing engineers, process control specialists, and other professionals who fabricate the components of IT hardware systems and integrate them into computer and telecommunications systems. Nor does it include any of the important support occupations associated with installing and maintaining hardware. SESTAT data on the number of individuals employed in this category in the mid-1990s are given in Table 2.4.1.

Because IT-intensive firms generally do not produce hardware, professionals whose occupations are associated with hardware are generally found in IT-producing firms; these are generally Category 1 workers. But IT-intensive firms do employ many individuals whose role is to support hardware deployments (Category 2 workers).

An upper bound on Category 1 workers in hardware is provided by BLS statistics on total employment in the semiconductor, telecommunications equipment, and computer equipment sectors (Table 2.4.2); however, these figures include lawyers and janitors and administrators as well as the technical workers who are the primary focus of this report.

Informal estimates from senior industry executives in the semiconductor industry indicate that the fraction of technical professionals is about 22 percent, and the fraction of technical support workers about 44 percent. Estimates of the distribution for the telecommunications and computer equipment sector were unavailable, but if the fractions are comparable, a rough estimate as shown in the two right-hand columns of Table 2.4.2 can be made of the size of the hardware workforce. However, the Category 2 column total almost certainly understates the total number of workers with hardware support responsibilities, because the BLS baseline “total employment” figures shown do not include employees in IT-intensive firms.

Clearly, Category 1 workers in hardware constitute a much smaller group than the Category 1 workers in software (among IT vendors) and applications (among IT-intensive firms). And it is likely, though less certain, that the Category 2 workers in hardware are similarly outnumbered by their counterparts in software and applications.

TABLE 2.4.1 Employment in the Category “Computer Hardware Engineers”











SOURCE: National Science Foundation SESTAT data, 1993, 1995, 1997.

TABLE 2.4.2 Estimating the Size of the Hardware Workforce


Upper Bound, BLS Data on Total Employmenta (June 2000)

Category 1 IT Estimateb

Category 2 IT Estimateb

Semiconductors and related devices (SIC code 3674)




Telephone/telegraph apparatus (telecommunications equipment) (SIC code 3661)




Computer equipment (computers, storage devices, computer peripherals) (SIC codes 3571, 3572, 3577)








aIncludes administrators and nontechnical personnel; figures are not seasonally adjusted and can be obtained from <>.

bEstimates derived by the method described in the text.

  • In 1999, technical writers and computer operators were relatively older, with each group having a median age of 44 years. The median age of electrical and electronic technicians was 35 and that of data-processing equipment repairers was 31.

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