Friday, July 13, 2012

IT job seekers face hot yet finicky market

A turbulent mix of trends confront IT job hunters

July 12, 2012 06:00 AM EST

The IT job market is either hot or lackluster, but mostly it is difficult for anyone who is seeking a job or hiring.
There are plenty of companies searching for employees, but jobs are nonetheless elusive for many. It's a job market of contradictions.
Employers aren't making it easier for job seekers, and may be suffering from expectation inflation. Some employers want superstars, with resumes as rich as the high school student who not only played quarterback for the football team, but led the math club to a state tournament, had a leading role in Macbeth and hit a 4.0 GPA.
A different problem faces Crown Equipment, a manufacturing company that makes fork lifts and other types of systems used to move materials around. It has about 16 IT job openings in product development and business operations. The problem Crown faces is attracting candidates to its location in small town New Bremen, Ohio, (Pop. 3,000). St. Marys is about 8 miles down the road, and the closest large city, Dayton, is 60 miles away.
"[New Bremen is] a great place to raise a family but if you want to go to Taco Bell you have to drive to St. Marys," said Jim Gaskell, director of global Insite products at Crown.
Insite is the name of a product line that helps customers track their forklifts and personnel, make better use of their equipment, and provide overall operational intelligence. Crown hosts the system in the cloud, and customers, if they chose to, can deploy it independent of their internal IT.
Gaskell said that hiring a new graduate out of college is not as difficult as getting someone with experience, such as a software architect. Experienced workers often don't want to relocate or switch jobs, he said.
Finding people with "good experience" is difficult, but the rural environment is a selling point for some as is the company's practice of promoting from within, said Gaskell.
But is the IT job market harder to deal with today? "I wouldn't say it is harder today -- this is a problem we have had since the beginning of time," said Gaskell.
Michael Beckley, the CTO and a founder of Appian, has a completely opposite view of the job market. Appian is a business process management (BPM) software provider that combines social, mobile and cloud.
"It's the most competitive we've seen it and in some ways it is even more competitive than the days," said Beckley, especially for key skills such as mobile app developers. The company is based in northern Virginia, near Washington.
"We're always looking for the most skilled people, the most talented people, who are capable of inventing the future, not just doing the same old type of work that's become a commodity -- fixing code, testing code that someone else wrote, that someone else invented," said Beckley.
The number of people who can meet that criteria, said Beckley, is small, "so we don't have a huge labor pool to pick from coming out of the top schools."
The competition for these candidates can be fierce. Beckley says a venture capital-funded startup outbid him by $42,000 in salary for one candidate.
Appian wants people who have been exceptional performers. For a new college graduate, that might mean having built an app that's available in Apple's App store.
For a more experienced worker, one thing that might get Appian's interest is someone who has contributed to an open source code base and has received positive feedback for it.
The company has hired 40 employees this year, and may hire as many as 60 by year-end. It employs about 200 today.
John Flaa, vice president of client services at Vettanna, a San Francisco-based staffing firm that also manages workers at client sites, mostly Fortune 500 companies, said job seekers face increasing challenges.
There has been a shift by clients in the past few years in the type of person they want to hire, Flaa said. Clients would once ask for someone, for instance, who has experience with the Python programming language, but would put it in a "nice to have" category. "Now it's must have Python experience," he said.
Employers are often seeking combinations of skills, such experience in multiple languages, and "that's when experience gets really difficult," said Flaa.
"There is a general feeling out there that there are lot of people out of work and that people should be happy to get a job -- any job -- so they raise their level of criteria in interviewing," said Flaa.
Analysts offer varying interpretations of U.S. employment numbers as they pertain to the IT labor force, depending on how service and consulting jobs are counted.
The U.S. experienced a net gain in 80,000 jobs last month, another month of weak hiring. That included a net gain of 8,200 IT jobs, from the prior month, said Foote Partners. Foote sees the increase as continuing evidence that IT professionals are "desired and being hired."
Not so, says Janco Associates, another firm that tracks that IT labor market. Janco said it only counted 3,400 jobs, or 4.25%, that were in IT, describing the figures as weak growth.
But the analysts seem to agree that it can be a difficult market for job seekers.
Foote says the skills most in demand with employers "may be elusive to large numbers of unemployed and underemployed tech workers."
Janco says the IT market is struggling, and said the number of people looking for jobs is at record lows. This labor force participation rate is the lowest it has been since 1980.
"With low hiring demand and low participation rate the picture is not pretty for recent IT graduates and other IT professionals looking for new jobs," Janco said in its report.

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