IT Jobs Becoming Plentiful

Dec 15, 2003

Allen Bernard

While tech spending isn't expected to take off significantly until sometime in 2004, the demand for IT professionals is on the rise now.

Depending who you talk to, over the past 12 months, and certainly in the last two or three, many in the staffing industry report a significant increase in demand for skilled IT help. Everything from DBAs and PC system management folks to security specialists and network engineers are being called for as companies finally begin to implement back-burner projects and update hardware, said Melissa Maffettone, a branch manager for Robert Half Technology.

"People that may not have spent money for many years have to do so again now," she said.

At TAC Worldwide, which provides temporary and contract IT professionals, John Hennessy, senior vice president of Delivery Operations and Mike Linden, senior vice president of Enterprise Sales, report a 20% increase in demand just since October.

This number is echoed by Donavan McDonald, mid-east regional vice president for Adecco Technical, whose year-over-year numbers for December indicate a 20% increase in business as well.

Vendors Too

And it's not only corporations with project backlogs doing the hiring, said Linden; hardware and software vendors are hiring as well in anticipation of the upcoming surge in demand. This is a good sign the industry is getting strong buying signals from their corporate customers.

Chip designers in the Boston area also are experiencing better job prospects, said McDonald, and this indicates predicted demand will be strong (or at least strong enough to warrant the investment in new people) for the foreseeable future. This is because chip companies have to design products years ahead of anticipated market release dates, he said.

Anything relating to corporate security is also a good skills set for job seekers to have, said Maffettone.

"Really anything on the security side, from assessing network vulnerabilities that exist to basically integrating virus protection into the network and everything in between, from soup-to-nuts, is big right now," she said.

Temporary Rules

For the moment though, most of the surge in hiring is being done on an outplacement or project basis. Companies are still hesitant to commit to a full-time hire before a sustained economic recovery will warrant such an expense. Instead, they are turning to staffing firms to begin long-overdue projects like PC and network upgrades, said Maffettone.

"Temporary and contract is a good early indicator of future full-time and permanent employment," agreed Asin, "because companies that have work to be done will hire people on a temporary or contract basis first before they are totally sure they can make a commitment to a full-time hire."

Some of the hottest industries right now for tech employment include government (Department of Defense, Department of Homeland Security and the Transportation Security Administration in particular), financial services, healthcare, medical device manufacturers, banking, and insurance.

Even a few COBOL programmers have been getting the nod of late as companies pick up legacy integration projects again. The telecommunications sector, at least in Texas, is also showing signs of renewed life, said TAC's Linden.

Because of all the government spending, the Washington D.C. area (which includes northern Virginia and Baltimore, Md.) is one of the best places to be looking for work right now. Texas is also a hot area for job seekers since, according to Linden, "Silicon Valley basically relocated to Austin quite some time ago."

Out with the Old

Silicon Valley, by contrast, is not nearly the hot-bed of activity it was in the late '90s. Nor is Boston's Rt. 128 area or New York City. Although these areas still create plenty of jobs, they are being outpaced by non-traditional places like Colorado, Texas and Arizona.

"If there's expansion going with a company that may very well be headquartered in California but they have facilities in Texas or Arizona, the expansion's going on in Texas or Arizona, not in California," said TAC's Hennessy.

But, while things are looking up across most IT sectors, its still early in the recovery and there will probably be more bad news before the rose-colored glasses of the late 1990s make a fashionable comeback.

"It seems we are turning the corner," said Asin, "but we have not reached the celebration stage yet. There's lots of bumps to come."


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