Amid layoffs many companies still hiring IT workers

Shortly after Donnie Reynolds, the chief operating officer at Automated HealthCare Solutions Inc. in Miramar, Fla., learned that Microsoft Corp. planned to cut 5,000 workers over the next 18 months, he and another employee of the medical services provider flew to the software vendor’s home city of Redmond, Wash.

“We don’t like to pass on a good talent,” said Reynolds, who called last Monday’s trip to Redmond a “gonzo recruiting approach” on the part of AHCS.

He and his co-worker spent the day in the area, some of it outside of Microsoft’s headquarters holding banners designed to attract the attention of the employees there.

AHCS has also set up a new Web site aimed at Microsoft workers, featuring a picture of a beach with a tagline that reads “This is our Vista.”

The site plays a song specifically chosen to appeal to people from the Seattle area: “Sunny,” which begins with the line “Sunny, yesterday my life was filled with rain.”

Reynolds said AHCS now has more than 100 resumes, some of them from Microsoft employees, for about a dozen open positions.

That’s how the tech job market is these days: While numerous IT vendors are laying off workers, and corporate IT jobs are being lost as well, plenty of companies – both vendors and users alike – are still hiring.

In the U.S. the overall trend is not encouraging: The number of IT jobs there is shrinking.

From November to December, IT employment in the U.S. declined by nearly 50,000 jobs, to a total of 3.85 million positions, based on an analysis of U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data by the National Association of Computer Consultant Businesses in Alexandria, Va.

That followed a loss of almost 34,000 jobs from October to November, according to the NACCB.

In Canada, while the latest IT employment numbers are not available anecdotal evidence suggests the situation isn’t much better.

The near collapse of Toronto-based Nortel Networks – which filed for bankruptcy protection in the U.S. last month – is seen by some industry observers as a harbinger of challenges in store for Canada’s IT industry.

At the height of its success Nortel employed 20,000 people. Today it has a staff of 4,600. The company’s cost-saving measures included several drastic job cuts.

In November, the telecommunications equipment maker announced it would be laying off another 1,300 employees. Combined with previous job cuts, the Toronto-based company will have shed 2,500 jobs by the end of 2009, on top of thousands laid off in the previous three years due to financial woes.

Such job cuts by big Canadian tech firms are having a negative impact on IT enrolment in colleges and universities here, industry observers say.

“What we’re seeing is enrollment dropping dramatically year after year, and in fact, we have some Canadian institutions that have room for 300 or 400 students for their first year intake,” noted Paul Swinwood, president of Ottawa-based Information and Communications Technology Council (ICTC).

He said as less than 10 per cent of those numbers actually enroll, the number of graduates this year and beyond will be even smaller.

In 2008, the ICTC published a report on enrollment numbers among Canadian universities. The study looked at undergraduate, graduate, masters and PhD students at close to 40 universities across the country. It found that declining enrollment rates commenced in about 2002 among Canadian institutions, resulting in enrollments numbers at 36 per cent to 64 per cent of their peak values.

“Everybody is at fault for this trend, from the provinces down to the education system,” Dalhousie computer science professor Jacob Slonim, who also served as a lead on the ICTC report, said. “Education in this country ignores computer science in high school, so students come in with virtually no understand of computing besides what they see with video games.” Swinwood agreed, pointing the finger at the lack of positive coverage for the IT industry in the mainstream media.

Industry observers say an inordinate amount of publicity is sometimes given to news of layoffs, while other positive news tends to get ignored by the media.

“Every time Nortel lays off employees, it makes major headlines,” Swinwood said. “But when CGI says it’s looking for 2,500 new people, we never hear about it. The fact that I’m forecasting the need for 80,000 new IT people by 2010 hasn’t made headlines either.”

It’s easy to miss the hiring that is going on amidst the parade of workforce reductions.

Among those looking for IT help is Chris Johnson, manager of human resources at CME Group Inc., which operates the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, the Chicago Board of Trade and the New York Mercantile Exchange. Johnson has 15 IT job openings, including database and network administrator positions.

He has received upward of several hundred resumes for each of those positions, but he said that isn’t making it any easier to find the perfect candidates to fill them.

“If somebody is good in their job, they’re going to want to stay in the job that they’re in,” Johnson said. “They aren’t the ones papering the town with resumes right now.”

As a result, Johnson is using the LinkedIn social networking site to augment his hiring efforts. He said he is searching the site for a “passive candidate” – someone who may be advertising his IT credentials on LinkedIn and looks like a strong match for CME, but isn’t actively looking to leave the security of his current job.

Even some of the large IT vendors that have begun cutbacks are continuing to hire as well. Microsoft’s careers site lists more than 700 open jobs in the U.S., including both technical and administrative positions.

And IBM has about 3,200 jobs and internships listed worldwide, more than 550 of them in the U.S. – even as it cuts thousands of workers in a move that it is describing not as a layoff, but an effort to “match skills and resources with our client needs.”

Many other vendors, such as Access Systems Americas Inc. in Sunnyvale, Calif., haven’t had any layoffs and are in hiring mode.

Access, which previously was known as PalmSource Inc. and is the developer of the former Palm operating system (now called Garnet OS), has about a dozen openings, including some for tech jobs.

In a sign of the times, though, Access is getting significantly more applications for the open jobs than when the economy was in better shape. In the past, the company might have received 30 to 40 resumes for a single position, but it’s getting between 60 and 70 now, according to Access officials.

Retailers have been hit especially hard by the economic recession.

IT job cuts are coming at Michaels Stores Inc., an Irving, Texas-based arts and crafts retailer that operates more than 1,000 stores. Michaels announced last week that it is turning over its IT operations to India-based outsourcing vendor Tata Consultancy Services Ltd., in a move that the retailer said will enable it to make IT improvements “sooner, better and less expensively.”

Exactly how many IT jobs at Michaels will be affected isn’t clear. But in an e-mail, the company said: “A few Michaels employees will go to work for TCS, but the majority will leave Michaels with severance after a three-to-four-month transition of knowledge and information about our work processes.”

HCL America Inc., a Sunnyvale-based subsidiary of outsourcer HCL Technologies Ltd. in Noida, India, is among the vendors that are hiring in the U.S. HCL America plans to open a new services delivery center in Cary, N.C., this month, and Shami Khorana, president of the HCL unit, said that 100 people will initially be hired to work at the 40,000 square-foot facility.

The head count at the center is expected to increase to 500 within five years, he added.

Khorana said the Cary facility is intended to meet the needs of outsourcing clients in the U.S. for business analysts, help desk workers and software developers, especially when customers want “more control and interaction” than they get working with offshore teams.

But not all of the jobs at the center will be new ones. Khorana said some of the employees there will be “rebadged” workers who are shifted from customers to HCL as part of outsourcing agreements.

With files from Rafael Ruffolo, Computerworld Canada


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