The high tech sector added 118,500 jobs in the first six months of this year, with all four sectors measured by the report adding employees for the first time since the 2001 “dot com” bubble burst and recession.

However, the overall increase in the number of jobs fell below the pace set in 2006, according to a report released Wednesday by the trade group AeA.

Citing U.S. Bureau of Labor statistics, the AeA reported increases in all four high-tech sectors, including manufacturing, communication services, software services and engineering/tech services.

In the same six months of 2006, 143,000 jobs were added. The high tech sector has added workers for three consecutive years after declines following the “dot com” bust and the recession in 2001.

The 2 percent increase in 2007 boosts high-tech employment in the U.S. to 5.94 million. That’s the highest total in 18 months. However, the AeA noted that overall private sector employment grew by 3.3 percent.

North Carolina State University economist Mike Walden found the results of the report encouraging but added that job growth is likely to continue to lag the private sector.

"I wouldn’t call it concern; I’d just call it ‘reality,’ " Walden said.

"I think the days of super rapid growth in tech jobs are over," he added. "Growing at the average rate, or slightly below, the overall economy is probably the best we can do. International competition is now so intense that U.S. companies must compete by being more efficient, and this means getting more productivity out of each worker – translated – slow job growth."

The AeA forecast continued growth but only if technology companies can find and hire talented workers.

“The rate of job growth is considerably slower than that of the 1990s but is nonetheless robust according to preliminary data,” the AeA said in the report. “AeA believes high-tech job growth can continue but only if American companies can hire the best and brightest talent to work here in the United States, whether the talent is American or foreign born.”

Jobs have increased at a higher rate than the final six months of 2006 when 30,000 employees were added. That increase was wiped out at the end of the year by a drop in employment from December of 2006 to January of this year. However, the overall trend is positive, the AeA noted.

"This is the third straight year that the U.S. tech industry is adding jobs," said William Archey, chief executive officer of the Washington, D.C.-based trade group.

"It is also the first year since the bursting of the high-tech bubble that all four tech sectors are experiencing job growth. This benefits the U.S. economy greatly because tech industry wages pay 86 percent more than the average private sector wage and support numerous other jobs."

In manufacturing, 1,800 jobs were added, increasing the sector’s total to 1.34 million.

High tech services increased by 116,600, or 2.6 percent. Of those jobs, 52,600 were added in engineering and tech services ; 51,100 were added in software services; and communication services added 12,900.

Since January of 2006, the number of jobs has grown in each sector as follows:

• High tech manufacturing: +19,900

• Communications services: +21,700

• Software services: +119.000

• Engineering and tech services: +103,8000

The Aea’s Archey said job growth would have been better were more qualified workers available.

“As good as this news is, we continue to believe tech industry job growth would be even more robust if U.S. policymakers were dealing with the challenges posed by heightened global competition and the lack of available qualified workers,” Archey said.

“Congress and the President acknowledged these challenges by passing the America Competes Act in August. This legislation – which passed with overwhelming bipartisan support – expands programs to attract undergraduates to pursue degrees in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) and introduces creative programs to enhance the capabilities of math and science teachers.

“The tech industry desperately needs this talent,” he added. “Companies continue to have thousands of unfilled positions across the country. It is now up to Congress and the President to fully fund the America Competes Act.”

Archey also called for changes in immigration policy so more foreign high-tech workers could receive work visas known as H-1Bs or “green cards.”

“We should be attracting, not shunning, the best and brightest talent from around the world, either through temporary H-1B visas or permanent employment-based green cards,” Archey said. “Instead, the United States places arbitrary caps on H-1Bs and imposes a time consuming, bureaucratic process on obtaining green cards."

The report can be downloaded from the AeA’s Web site.