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February 12, 2001
Employers Face Challenges With New Media Professionals
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ACA, N.Y. - Workers in the burgeoning Internet/digital design industry jockey for survival in one of the fastest growing employment sectors in the United States. Confronted with rapid changes in "new media" markets and technology, these highly-skilled professionals - as well as their employers - face serious labor challenges, according to Susan Christopherson, a professor of city and regional planning at Cornell University. She is one of four co-authors of a new report called "Net Working: Work Patterns and Workforce Policies for the New Media Industry."

"Net Working " is a survey of a highly accomplished group of new media workers in New York City's "Silicon Alley." Published by the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) in Washington, D.C., the report finds that new media professionals are largely self-taught, remain with an employer for an average of six months and spend more than half of their work week sustaining employment.

The report defines new media as the "convergence of existing media with Internet distribution and computer-driven technologies that combine and manipulate text, sound and images" - for example, CD-ROMs, web pages and even movies. New media professionals must maintain state-of-the-art skills in order to create high-tech, "interactive products for businesses, clients and consumers," the report states.

While 87 percent of these workers say they depend on self-education for obtaining new skills, only 15.4 percent ranked a college degree as an important source of skill education. That makes this new work force especially challenging for universities and other educational institutions, says Christopherson.
While hundreds of thousands of workers have swapped the security of traditional employment for the relative autonomy and flexibility of new media careers, these workers cite training, job search assistance and health care coverage as major concerns. The report finds that formal training programs have not kept apace of industry innovations, yet the most marketable workers must possess sophisticated hybrid skills, such as marketing with web page design, that are difficult for employers to assess.

Other findings in the report:
  • New media workers spend an average of 13.5 unpaid hours per week obtaining new skills, in addition to an average work week of 53 hours.
  • Full-time does not mean long-term in this field. The average new media job is short-term, determined by the length of the media project;
  • Men fair far better in the field - the average hourly wage for men is $55.90 per hour compared to $42.80 for women;
  • Compared to high wage employees in other industries, new media workers lag behind in benefits: 77 percent of full-time new media workers receive basic health insurance, 72 percent receive comprehensive health coverage, 63 percent have a retirement plan and 55 percent have a deferred income plan, such as stock options or profit-sharing.
  • Professional associations and personal networks play a pivotal role in keeping new media workers abreast of changes in the market and new job opportunities.

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