Demand still high for contract programmers

Companies may be in for a shock if they expect to avoid the wage inflation seen lately with Cobol programmers, according to a recent industry report.

In IDC (Canada) Ltd.’s study, Contract IT Now: The Benefits and Pitfalls of Contract Labour, 200 large Canadian companies were surveyed to assess their use of contracted workers.

According to the report, although the demand for Cobol and mainframe skills will soften throughout 1999, an increased demand for C++ and Java programmers will kick in by early next year.

“After February of 2000, after most of the Y2K issues have been put to rest, companies are going to start looking towards investing in information technology again,” said Julie Kaufman, research manager of skills and research at IDC’s Toronto office.

“When they do that, they are not going to be looking at investing in legacy technologies. And [new investment is] very much where C++ and Java fit in.”

Currently, companies trying to fix Y2K problems may be paying high prices due to the short supply of people who can fix the various systems involved.

“Some companies are going to start thinking that after the Y2K issue is over with there’s going to be more people with the skills they are looking for, and possibly less demand, because these things are not of a time-sensitive nature.” But that’s not really going to be the case, Kaufman explained. “You are going to see pent-up demands for a lot of people with C++ and Java training, and there is still not going to be a lot of people out there who have those skills. So they are still going to have to pay a pretty hefty price to get the type of people they want.”

Greg Michetti, president of Edmonton-based solutions provider Michetti Information Solutions Inc., said he is already starting to see more demand for C++ within organizations, as well as for Java.

“Bandwidth always seemed to be a problem (before) with Java. Things were slow and kind of clunky.” But now, he said, “bandwidth is getting bigger, better, easier and cheaper,” and people are starting to find Java much more worthwhile to implement.

He also agreed the need for mainframe skills will probably drop off a lot at the start of next year. “As soon as the Y2K issues are settled, I’m convinced there will be a ton of Cobol people looking for work.”

But any funds gained from this are likely to be allocated into projects that have been put on hold the last few months of 1999, he explained.

“I think people are going to be a little surprised after they are finished with their Y2K spending and are expecting a dip in some of their expenses – they are suddenly going to realize they have to spend just as much, or more, than they were spending on Y2K, just to have kept up with other things.”

Kaufman agreed. “It is going to be catch-up time for a lot of companies that are putting projects entirely on hold until the threat of Y2K is over — which people are saying could be as late as March,” she said.

“But some companies that are ahead of the game in terms of Y2K will be starting to look at that type of thing now.”

But finding a programmer is not the same as keeping a programmer, Kaufman said.

“Those that you do find, you can lose very easily – it’s very much a retention issue. Because they are in such high demand, they are going to be less loyal to any one company. So they could be there for four months, and then take off elsewhere. And you are right back where you started.”