Warbling Willie Nelson, in a now classic country song, offers up a sage piece of career advice: “Mamas, don’t let your babies grow up to be cowboys.”

Now, I know that Willie could never be confused with an employment and demographics expert, but I would argue that the craggy state of his countenance should be ample evidence of a hard life lived and, thus, count for something in the experience department. Besides, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to realize that cowboy, as a profession, will offer diminishing opportunities as we shrink the amount of land on which they can ply their trade while the buffalo roam and the deer and the antelope play–if you know what I mean.

So why, you ask, am I bringing this up? It seems to me that a similarly shrinking playing field is one of the problems we face today in the technology sector. Once a booming job market with higher than average salaries, the U.S. technology sector has fallen on leaner times, as automation has replaced lower-level employees (isn’t that ironic?) and higher-level workers–especially programmers–have seen their jobs exported to other countries where the hourly pay rate may be 25% of what it is here.

I’ve written before about the disturbing trend toward fewer and fewer college students choosing to major in computer science. You can hardly blame them, though, when they keep reading about the decline in our technology sector and, thus, less optimistic prospects overall for a career in information processing. And let’s face it, computer programmer and systems engineer are not exactly the types of job titles that will generate excitement in young, impressionable minds.

If I were a young college-bound lad, I would look at the litany of media reports on IT jobs outsourcing and conclude that by the time I graduated with a degree in computer science there would be precious little for me to do, much less be paid for–unless, of course, I was pointing toward an international career in some place like Beijing, Bombay or Dublin.

The news on technology careers in the U.S. isn’t all dreary, however. In a study released last month by AeA–a nationwide trade association that purports to represent all segments of the technology industry–results showed that the high-tech industry in the U.S. is “edging forward.” According to the report–”Cyberstates 2006: A Complete State-by-State Overview of the High-Technology Industry”–high-tech employment added 61,000 net jobs for a total of 5.5 million workers in 2005, “the first increase in tech jobs in four years.”

The report–which covers all 50 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico–also noted that U.S. high-tech exports were up by 4%, totaling $199 billion in 2005. Here in New Jersey, the high-tech industry lost 5,500 jobs, but the losses were concentrated mostly in the telecommunications services sector–a trend that is reflected nationwide, the report noted.

On the positive side, New Jersey exported $3.3 billion in high-tech goods, “helping to support an average wage of $82,500, the third highest average wage rate in the country,” the report said.

Clearly, offshore outsourcing of IT jobs will continue to be with us–too often as a quick fix for a company’s lagging profits or over-budget expenses. Yet even with this trend continuing, it seems the high-tech industry refuses to die in this country, and that is a heartening thought.

As seen in the downturn in telecommunications jobs, high-tech employment will likely be a dynamic terrain in which job titles and duties may shift radically over one’s career. Then again, that seems to be the norm for today’s economy. According to the real experts in employment and demographics, people can expect to change jobs–and even careers–several times during their lives.

Nevertheless, there is a critical need in our country for a new generation of technology experts to lead us forward–a new Bill Gates is waiting out there somewhere. In the technology-challenged insurance industry, in particular, there is tremendous opportunity for IT people who want to innovate.

Look, if you actually know some young buck or buckette who really wants to be a cowboy, I say, “Go for it.” Otherwise, I would implore you mamas and papas out there: Please do let your babies grow up to be techies. Your industry and your country will be far better for it.