IT Jobs Outlook

When will hiring finally pick up, and what should you do till then?

SIM thought leaders hash out IT job market issues with eWeek Labs IT Careers Center experts


David Brown
Vice president, information services
Cranston Print Works Co.,Cranston, R.I.

Robert Barrett
Former vice president, IT
PRI Automation Inc., Billerica, Mass.

Carol Brown
Associate professor of information services
Kelley School of Business Indiana University, Bloomington, Ind.

Jerry Luftman
Director, Wesley J. Howe School of Technology Management
Stevens Institute of Technology, Hoboken, N.J.

Ronald Divinere
KeyTech LLC, Hartford, Conn.

Remember the IT skills shortage crisis? It was only a couple of years ago that IT managers counted finding enough experienced technology professionals as one of their biggest concerns. Experts predicted a chronic shortage of IT skills for years to come.

Fast forward to today. With many dot-coms in ruins and IT spending and hiring still in the slow lane, the job market for technical professionals is a completely different story. Many experienced IT professionals are unemployed or underemployed. Consultants and contractors are reducing their rates to get jobs. And opportunities for people with entry-level skills are vastly reduced.

Recently, in conjunction with the Society for Information Managements annual Interchange conference in Salt Lake City, eWeek Executive Managing Editor Jeff Moad and IT Careers Managing Editor Lisa Vaas sat down with a select group of CIOs, educators and IT work force experts to explore the root causes of the IT job market downturn, when it might end, and what employers and IT professionals should do in the meantime.

eWeek: Hiring managers tell us they see this as a golden opportunity to upgrade the IT work force. You can get a much higher skill level in the people coming in the door. You can actually work with fewer people and get the same amount of work done, and salaries are actually dropping, so labor costs are going down. How are you attempting to take advantage of the situation?

Divinere: There are more candidates available today for IT organizations as far as hiring. I see more talent available today. What a lot of organizations have done is theyve brought in their own IT/ [human resources] recruiter types, and theyre spending more time finding the talent out there. With that, I assume that in many cases salaries have come down. ... I think some of the people whove been around for a long time—who started their careers with mainframes, eventually client/server, now with the Web-based technology—some of those people have a lot of good business talent, a lot of good technology skills, and where they used to command big dollars several years ago, some are still seeking employment. ...

Barrett: Yes ... there are people available for probably less money than they were making during the dot-com days, but Im not sure Im seeing companies taking advantage of that to consciously retool the organization. The companies Im involved with are downsizing and shrinking so much, were cutting the low-level people, keeping the people as best as we can. Theyre not replacing the good people we have, hoping to get somebody a little bit better.

D. Brown: I think theres a danger in trying to bring on a higher-skilled individual at a lower price because, once the economy does bounce back, if the individual perceives he or she is not being used in a way they need to be, [that is,] theres no growth or no career path for them ... I dont think theyll stay. I think the danger is theyll be off somewhere else, and youll be out recruiting all over again.

Divinere: Thats true, but it doesnt mean theyre not bringing in some of these people today. Ive seen many companies bring in some of these people that they were looking for a couple years ago that they couldnt get, they couldnt find.

Luftman: Isnt it different at different levels? More senior-level folks might be having a much more difficult time finding a position quickly, where your lower-level, more technical people ... [are] still finding jobs. I can speak to that from folks I work with, on the senior end ... senior-level managers or even CIOs whove lost their jobs, and theyre out of work for a year, maybe more. ... [On the other hand,] I see the kids ... graduating as undergraduates, they used to get jobs a little bit faster. But theyre all getting jobs, and very good jobs. On the salary thing, the more senior people dont care as much about their salaries as the younger kids. The kids want to make that little extra money, but the senior people, theyve got some money, its not quite as important to them, and theyre more interested in maintaining their niche in the business world.