Surmounting The Job Market Slowdown

Call it what you will: a downturn, a recession, a slowdown, an economic slump. Whatever the term, we are smack dab in the middle of it and although there are many who will take comfort in the promised proverbial light at the end of the tunnel, we have yet to see it – especially in the IT parade.

With the virtual extinction of start-ups and dot-coms, the question that remains in the minds of IT professionals – especially those unfortunate enough to have lost their jobs in the process – is: “Where do I go from here?”

The answer, however, is not black and white. The good news is that since the demise of the dot-com, companies are focusing their efforts on supporting existing infrastructure, making network professionals at the top of the most wanted list. The bad news is that although networking skills are in demand, the demand is not nearly large enough to account for all the qualified applicants available. Companies are hiring less and salaries have gone down considerably across the board since last year, according to consultants. But, they say we are not at a total standstill. There are jobs out there, just not nearly as many. The consensus among IT recruiters and companies is, to put it bluntly, out do the last applicant. Easier said than done? Not necessarily.

What It Takes

The actual skill set demands have not changed much since last year, says Neil Urquhart, president of Integrity Technology Consultants, a Toronto-based recruitment firm which specializes in supplying teams or individuals for IT placements. Urquhart says that his clients are looking for individuals with internetworking skills in order to allow networks to communicate with each other. He says that the market for networking professionals is snowballing, although the actual job opportunities are few.

“In general, Unix people are in demand but it seems that within the Unix world, Sun Solaris is more prevalent than HP-UX or AIX,” Urquhart says. “Linux is also becoming prevalent as well. As these companies are building out their networks, obviously security is a huge factor. Anyone who has a background in network security is in high demand and will definitely be earning more money than someone doing PC desktop support.”

Security is a critical area, agrees Marilyn Harris, a former Canadian Information Processing Society (CIPS) national president, based in Victoria, B.C. She says that because there is a need for close to 100 per cent assurance of security, newer people in the industry should educate themselves in terms of what the security issues are that corporations’ face and what are some of the innovative ways of trying to deal with them.

Fellow Integrity Consultant Tanya Borean says that there is also a demand for people with Windows 2000 experience both on the desktop as well as the server side.

“The technical skills our clients have most recently been looking for are Cisco certification, Windows 2000 and Unix, particularly Sun Solaris,” she says, adding that over the next year she anticipates that more companies will begin to implement Active Directory Services (ADS) as well.

Let Me Explain…

Technical skills are just an element of what companies are looking for in terms of the individuals they hire, says CIPS’ Harris.

“I would think that lots of people plotting out their careers should be educating themselves on the big issues of how technologies are implemented,” Harris says. “What that possibly says is: gee whiz, interpersonal and communication skills are important for network managers. Who would have thought?”

Harris says that the ability to explain the realities of technologies to other people within a company or client-base is very important.

“I think the trend in the industry has been more emphasis on the well-rounded individual,” she adds. “There is no question that every network person better have a pretty strong understanding of TCP/IP. That is a foundation skill. Beyond that there is the need for people who have strong educational backgrounds and interpersonal skills. There is the need to be able to explain highly technical things to non-technical people.”

For Wesley Nelson, the former CTO of, a wireless financial management start-up in Waterloo, Ont., finding the right people with the right skills is not easy. Nelson says that during his tenure as CTO, the primary skills the company wanted were in software engineering, specifically C, C++ and Java.

“Looking for someone with five-plus years of Java and C++ is not easy,” he says. “Add to that we were making use of a lot of higher-level data representation languages like XML, WAP and WML. The experienced candidate not only had to understand those technologies, but also understand where they fit in the wireless world.”

Nelson says that the candidate was looking for was the one that would walk into the organization and tell them what they were doing wrong, not someone who needed to be trained.

Sandra Lavoy, area manager, consulting services for RHI Consulting in Ottawa, says companies are still providing “training dollars” – money for education pertaining to the job – but not nearly as much as last year. She said that signing bonuses, which were a staple of last year’s recruiting strategies, have not quite vanished but have dropped considerably compared to what companies were offering even as little as six months ago. Still, Lavoy insists that IT continues to be a well-paid industry.

“IT (in general) pays more than healthcare and than government,” Lavoy says. “IT is the highest paid industry because they understand what technology brings and how important they are.”

Don’t Call Us, We’ll Call You

Going back to the good news, IT pays more than most other industries within Canada. That rings true, but only if you are lucky enough to find or keep a position. Integrity’s Borean says the difference between this year and last year revolves around the change in supply vs. demand.

“A year ago the market was tighter and companies found it harder to attract qualified people to fill their jobs,” she says. “As a result of several factors, including the closing of many dot-coms and the slowing economy in general, there is a greater supply of qualified people available. In fact, today we have an excess of qualified candidates on the market so companies are able to be more selective about who they want to hire and the salaries they want to pay.”

RHI’s Lavoy agrees. “We have to understand something; the market we saw last year was not a normal market. What I mean by that is that we would send a candidate out on an interview and they would get the job on the spot. Now it has become two or three interviews later, two or three weeks later that they are making their decisions. This is a normal market.”

For What You’re Worth

RHI Consulting’s 2001 Salary Guide shows that networking and telecommunications salaries have gone up since last year. In Canada, the salary range for network architects has gone up 10.1 per cent, while the salary range for network engineers has increased slightly, up 2.1 per cent. In the U.S. however, networking and telecommunications professionals are being paid well above their Canadian counterparts.

In a recent study published by RHI Consulting in the U.S., the semi-annual RHI Consulting Hot Jobs Report, IT executives say that the demand for networking professionals remains strong within their organizations because the increasingly mobile workforce and an emphasis on safeguarding corporate systems. RHI’s Lavoy says, however, that the Canadian market is steady and that business has started to pick up over the last month.

Integrity’s Borean says that overall, compensation packages are less attractive this year, but in general starting salaries are relatively the same.

“Last year dot-com companies were offering huge compensation packages to attract candidates,” Borean says. “But our clients (not dot-coms) who are still in existence today have more structured wage bands.”

Lavoy says that the most important thing candidates must do is keep their skills current in order to ensure a position in the forever-changing market.

Networking/Telecom Salary Ranges in Canada and the U.S.

Title – Canada 2001 – U.S. 2001

Systems Architect* – $67,500-$110,000 – US$77,500-US$108,250

Network Architect* – $61,750-$96,750 – US$72,250-US$102,000

Network Manager* – $65,000-$90,750 – US$68,250-US$91-500

Network Engineer* – $53,500-$78,500 – US$62,500-US$85,250

Network Administrator* – $41,250-$75,250 – US$48,000-US$69,250

Telecommunications Manager – $72,500-$86,250 – US$70,750-US$91,250

Telecommunications Specialist – $58,750-$79,250 – US$54,500-US$73,000

*Add 5 per cent to 10 per cent for Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer; 5 per cent to 7 per cent for Certified NetWare Engineer/Administrator; and 20 per cent to 30 per cent for Cisco Certified Internetwork Expert designations.

Source: RHI Consulting, 2001 Salary Guide.