Big recruiters staying away from campuses

For a second straight year, formal on-campus recruiting of IT graduates is way down, thanks in part to the slow economy, an abundance of unemployed IT talent and continued corporate belt-tightening.

Recruiters and IT executives from just about everywhere – Microsoft Corp. being a notable exception – say there are simply too many experienced IT professionals available from businesses that have laid off workers in the past two years.

Moreover, few new jobs are being created. In a December survey of 150 CEOs representing companies employing a total of 10 million people, 80 per cent of the respondents said they would hold the line or reduce capital spending in 2003. “This will most certainly stunt job creation,” said John Challenger, CEO of Challenger, Gray and Christmas Inc., which conducted the survey.

The IT talent glut makes it unnecessary for companies to go fishing on college campuses for more IT personnel. “It’s simply crazy to recruit workers without job experience when there are so many talented IT professionals available,” said Rob Collins, CIO at business intelligence software provider Cognos Inc. in Ottawa.

Downturn Predicted

A survey released in late December by the Bethlehem, Pa.-based National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE), which tracks college graduates for recruiters and human resources professionals, confirms the bleak job outlook for all college graduates. In August, NACE projected that employers would hire 3.6 per cent fewer college graduates in 2002-03 than they hired in 2001-02. In December, 60 per cent of 312 employers responding to NACE’s latest survey reconfirmed their intentions to hire fewer new college graduates, and the rest said they plan additional cuts in college-grad hiring.

Many businesses have no budget or mandate to hire on college campuses now, said Maria Schaffer, an analyst at Meta Group Inc. in Stamford, Conn. Meta will publish the results of its annual survey of Fortune 1,000 CIOs later this quarter. But Schaffer said that according to the raw survey data, fewer than two per cent of CIOs will recruit on campus this year, down from six per cent in 2001 and way down from a high of 18 per cent of companies in 2000.

“Many companies may end up sending a human resources person for a day to interview top candidates at leading colleges, but most aren’t making immediate job offers,” she said.

In fact, most companies are counting on most of their competitors to forgo campus recruiting this year, said Bill Coleman, senior vice-president of compensation at Inc., a human capital management software and research firm. “That way every company will be on the same footing when the situation improves and jobs become available,” he said.

But Microsoft Corp., which is expanding its campus recruiting this year, views the pullout by competitors as short-sighted. “We are committed to college recruiting,” said Kristin Roby, Microsoft’s senior director of college and MBA recruiting. “Companies that turn away now risk losing the relationships they will need when the economy fully recovers,” she said.

Over the past few years, Microsoft has recruited about 600 computer science students per year for full-time positions. This year, it will increase that to 800 new hires, though Roby admits the additional 200 personnel hired won’t come from the computer science field. Instead, she said, Microsoft will hire more college grads from marketing, finance and human resources programs. It attributes its hiring needs to overall continued growth. Currently, Microsoft has more than 53,000 employees and recruits from more than 250 schools.

Some experts say Microsoft is smart to buck the no-campus-recruiting trend. “Right now, the last thing I want is to be in the same boat as my competition – I want to smash and kill them. And that’s why it’s smart to build strong college campus relations now,” said retired Elf Atochem CIO Bob Rubin, who is now president of Valley Management Consultants in Huntington Valley, Pa.

“When the economy turns around, businesses will want to be back on campus in force, and that’s difficult to do if you’ve severed your ties,” said Marilyn Mackes, executive director of NACE.

It’s also a good idea to keep internship programs up and running, because they are far less expensive than full-blown campus recruiting initiatives, said Mackes. Cognos’ Collins said the company will continue to hire college grads using this method. If their interns work well within the company’s corporate culture, they are often offered jobs after they graduate.

Recruiters and analysts emphasize that a small recruiting effort is better than none and will likely reap rewards in a few short years. They say that barring a major terrorist strike or a long, drawn-out war, they’re hopeful that the current jobless recovery will start to improve and create a need for more IT personnel in the second half of the year.

Few jobs, plenty of internships

– 40 per cent of employers will continue current internship programs.

– 17.5 per cent will bring in more interns than last year.

– Eight per cent expect to cut back on internships.

– Nine per cent of companies have no formal internship program.

Source: National Association of Colleges and Employers, Bethlehem, Pa.