Technology job-hunters unite!

Michael Goldberg

CIO (U.S.)

Louis Frissore runs data centres. Alexander Cedrone, a data warehouse manager, makes CRM work. Susan Bradley is a human resources manager who has honchoed PeopleSoft Inc. implementations.

One by one, they and some 30 other tech-savvy pros took their brief turns on stage recently to share their experiences with 200 of their peers. A few years ago, this same crowd might have gathered at a posh downtown hotel to hear presentations about IT project lessons or innovative technologies.

But not today. This meeting is about job-hunting.

This is The 495 Networking Support Group. It assembles weekly at Congregation B’nai Shalom, a synagogue in Westboro, Mass., not far from where Data General engineers once designed advanced minicomputers (inspiring the best-selling 1981 book The Soul of a New Machine).

A lot more than the size of computers has changed since then. Data General is gone – now part of storage giant EMC. Route 495, the technology-heavy highway ringing Boston, is dotted with office buildings featuring For Lease signs. The only thing trending up around there is The 495 Networking Support Group’s size: It has grown to 1,700 members in two years.

The Labor Department reports that 308,000 jobs were lost in February as the unemployment rate hovered at 5.8 per cent. A study by the trade group American Electronics Association showed a combined loss of 560,000 high-tech jobs in 2001 and 2002, mostly in manufacturing and communications services.

The 495 Networking Support Group meets Wednesday mornings to share job-hunting leads in the high-tech industry and in IT. Tony Badman, cofounder and president of the group, is a former project manager for EMC and Data General.

The Boston area represents a particularly sour spot for white collar, IT-oriented job-hunters, says Paul Harrington, a labor economist at Northeastern University. Massachusetts has lost 157,000 jobs, or 4.7 per cent of its workforce, since the recession started in January 2001. Losses have hit low-end manufacturing and high-end professional services. “What makes this recession unique is that it’s more white collar than in the past,” Harrington says.

In the synagogue’s meeting hall, Badman explains that 495 is like many of the support organizations that have sprung up around the country in this recession, but with a difference: There’s an emphasis on action.

So besides the usual networking sessions, 495 has a password-protected website that posts r