IT jobs are a safe bet in Vegas

Las Vegas casinos will be packed this weekend with Super Bowl bettors, but if you're looking for a sure bet, bring your resume -- not your cash. IT workers are in demand in this fast-growing city, a reflection of the dip in interest among college students in IT careers in the U.S.

"Anyone who can show up to work with a clean shirt is guaranteed a job," said Ken Peffers, chairman of the MIS department at the University of Nevada at Las Vegas (UNLV). There are now 200 students enrolled in the MIS undergraduate program at UNLV, but Peffers said the local labor market could easily support 400 students in his program.

If you are in IT and head to Las Vegas for work, Denny Frey, vice president of IT at Boyd Gaming Corp., said your luck will probably be very good. "Anybody who comes in here with any kind of technical background will definitely find a job," said Frey, whose company runs 17 casinos in Las Vegas and other states.

Frey and some of his IT peers advise UNLV on training needs. He said a variety of technical skills is needed in this desert city, including telecommunications, networking, cabling and program management. The gaming industry, in particular, needs database marketers, data warehouse skills and business intelligence administrators, said Frey.

Some IT skills in Vegas are system-specific, especially those needed for the IBM System i, which is used at Boyd and other gaming companies. To help meet the need for System i skills, IBM is helping UNLV this fall to get Series i training under an initiative that includes new courses.

Frey said the need for technical skills is a result of rapid growth in the area. In the 20 years he has been in Las Vegas, its population has grown from 600,000 to almost 2 million people. But many of those arriving are hunting jobs in the service industry, not IT.

The lack of IT workers is part of a national trend: College enrollments in computer science and related areas have been declining in recent years. For instance, the Computing Research Association (CRA) last year reported that the number of bachelor's degrees in computer science fell 17 percent in the 2004-05 academic year from the previous year to 11,808 at Ph.D-granting universities. The decline is being blamed on the perception students have of the IT bubble crash earlier in this decade, as well as concerns about offshoring.

Stephen Pickett, CIO at Bloomfield Hills, Mich.-based Penske Corp., is trying to do something about that. Pickett has spoken to undecided college students to talk about opportunities in IT. It is part of an effort by the Chicago-based Society of Information Management to encourage students to enter into IT fields. SIM plans to expand its academic outreach initiative this year, involve more of its chapters and seek corporate support.

Many of SIM's members are also in the academic community, and "they are concerned about being able to retain professors because the class sizes are going down," said Pickett, the immediate past president of SIM.

For IT managers, the implications of declining student enrollment will be to push wages up, said Pickett.

Over the last year, SIM ran 12 sessions at several universities to offer insight into career opportunities in IT. Microsoft helped, as did SIM leaders and members of various chapters. As many as 200 people, students and parents attended some of the sessions, said Pickett.

Pickett spoke at Oakland University in Rochester, Mich., and his remarks were included in video conferencing to some nearby universities.

Pickett loves IT, and said many students came up to him after his presentation to ask about his own career. Pickett began working on the technical side of IT, but ultimately moved into the business end of it. He encourages students to get training in both areas. "You can't just have the technical part, you just can't have the business part, you really need to have both."

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