IT hiring plans vary, despite signs of worker demand

With the U.S. economy picking up steam, some recruiters are seeing a rise in demand for technology workers. But several IT managers who were interviewed in late November said they have a mix of hiring plans.

Following a series of hirings earlier this year, Choice Homes Inc. has as many IT staffers as it expects to need for the next six months, said Andrew Brimberry, director of information services at the Arlington, Tex.-based home builder.

Choice Homes added a database administrator, a WAN technician and two help desk administrators to help support an expansion of its IT infrastructure that was fueled by revenue growth. With those jobs filled, Brimberry said he doesn’t see any need to further expand his 24-person IT staff.

The hiring situation is similar at Emcor Group Inc., but for different reasons. Norwalk, Conn.-based Emcor makes electrical and mechanical systems for commercial construction uses and offers a variety of facilities-related services. But unlike Choice Homes, which has benefited from continued strength in new housing starts, Emcor has been hurt by weakness in the commercial sector.

That’s the main reason why Emcor plans “little to no growth in staff” within its IT department and has only a handful of major technology initiatives in its 2004 budget, said CIO Joseph Puglisi.

On the other hand, PRG-Schultz International Inc. plans to increase its IT staff by more than 10 per cent next year. CIO Eric Goldfarb said the Atlanta-based company, which does auditing work to help corporate clients identify overpayments to their suppliers, will add 20 domestic and international IT workers to its current staff of 185 to support increasing customer demand.

“But I think the trend this upcoming year is for highly specialized talent,” Goldfarb added, citing PRG-Schultz’s need for experienced IT professionals with ERP skills as an example.

According to New York-based Dice Inc., 72 percent of the 263 human resources managers and recruiters who responded to an e-mail survey in August said they planned to increase their hiring of tech workers within either three or six months. “This is a huge difference from the survey we conducted last year,” said Scot Melland, president and CEO of Dice, which operates an online job board for tech workers.

The new survey didn’t explore the types of positions that are in greatest demand, nor did it assess hiring by vertical industry. But Melland said an analysis of his company’s Web site shows that demand remains strong for “traditional, hard-core IT positions,” such as Unix systems administrators and Oracle and SQL Server database administrators.

The industries that are doing the most hiring include aerospace and defense plus financial services, Melland added.

Unemployment rates remain high among IT workers compared with historical levels. The Commission on Professionals in Science and Technology, a Washington-based non-profit group that does research on workforce and educational issues, said in a report released in September that six per cent of IT professionals were out of work. The group added that the overall number of IT jobs has declined by 150,000 from its peak of 2.5 million in 2000.

Conditions in the IT job market “have been very trying for the past two years, but things have picked up a lot since August,” said Jim Tobin, a senior technical recruiter in the Rochester, N.Y., office of staffing services provider Manpower Inc.

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