Network Pros Are Still in Demand

Seen as critical staff members, networking professionals are enjoying security.

Newspaper publisher Gannett is one of countless businesses striving to balance the potential benefits of increased investments in company projects against the need to control costs.

For years, the company has been suffering from a migration of readers and advertisers from print media to the Internet. While Gannett has launched many initiatives to address that change, the companys core business continues to struggle.

As a result, chief IT Architect and eWeek Corporate Partner Gary Gunnerson said he does little hiring beyond that for attrition and special projects.

"Our experience in newspaper publishing is that advertising is a bellwether of the national economy, and we havent seen much improvement in five years," Gunnerson said.

Gunnerson said he is also aware that the companys IT staff has been instrumental in launching projects that might reduce the cost of doing business or create new opportunities for growth—for example, by publishing special editions or making more content available online.

For that reason, network managers, project managers, and photo and video editing professionals are the most likely positions for hire at Gannett, in McLean, Va.

The hiring picture at Gannett is similar to that of many small and midsize businesses. Many employers say they are not doing a lot of hiring but, rather, are protecting critical staff positions, such as network professionals. Still, other companies say they see this year as one of improvement on the hiring front, and new initiatives should spell good news for IT hiring overall in the second half of the year.

Even large companies offer a mixed message on the hiring front. Package delivery giant UPS, for example, entered 2006 with an IT budget at $1 billion, unchanged from 2004 and 2005. Approximately 60 percent of that budget covers staff, said UPS spokesperson Donna Barrett.

UPS oozes technology. Nonetheless, Barrett said the Atlanta-based company is confident its existing resources are sufficient to support new projects this year.

It is a similar story at defense contractor Aerojet-General, where a sluggish business climate has prevented the company from adding IT jobs for the past three years.

"When special projects come up, we handle them with temp or contract workers," said Sam Inks, IT director at Aerojet-General, in Gainesville, Va., and an eWeek Corporate Partner. "I guess salaries are up a little bit each year for inflation, but, otherwise, they are flat.

But there is some encouraging news. Several employers say they have noted a subtle shift and that 2006 may ultimately be the year that the balance of power tips again from employers to their workers, giving workers more power to negotiate salaries.

At Georgia Institute of Technology, in Atlanta, where 17,000 students are enrolled in graduate and undergraduate programs, career counselors said 2005 was the best recruiting season in the last five years.

Ralph Mobley, director of career services, said 2006 has shaped up to be more of the same, with students now graduating with at least one sound job offer on the table.

/zimages/3/28571.gifDespite decelerating market, IT boasts growth. Click here to read more.

One reason: There is simply a lot of new and ongoing work to be done in IT, from bolstering security to building new Web applications to enhancing network infrastructure to comply with the massive record keeping mandated under the Sarbanes-Oxley Act to simply improving customer service.

Echoing this theme is Tom Miller, IT director of medical device manufacturer FoxHollow Technologies, in Redwood City, Calif., and an eWeek Corporate Partner.

FoxHollow needs to increase its IT staff to keep up with the growth of the overall business, as well as to comply with new industry regulations, Miller said. Among the job positions that Miller is seeking to fill are network analyst, business analyst, service desk administrator and intern.

San Francisco-based Bare Escentuals, a cosmetics manufacturer and retailer, is another company that is hiring in 2006, reflecting the strength of its core business.

IT Director Michael Skaff, also an eWeek Corporate Partner, said he predicts the 15-member IT department will grow by 25 percent to keep up with new store openings and the systems needed to support them.

In general terms, Skaff said he is looking for workers with a broad range of skills and business acumen. Specifically, he said that network engineers, business analysts, Windows and Unix specialists, and support desk staff are all likely areas for expansion. Nonetheless, the companys aggressive growth plans have not made it less selective with regard to whom it hires.

"We need people with a broad range of skills, and they are hard to find," Skaff said. "Weve been looking for a network engineer for some time, and we see a lot of fluff and exaggerated resumes."

Andrea Pettis is a freelance writer in San Francisco.

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