Job scene forcing senior IT staff down market

In the current difficult employment market some job seekers, particularly senior ones, are finding they need to consider roles with less responsibility than their previous positions, recruiters say.

Potentia managing director Josh Comrie says this can lead to less than ideal situations.

“When a senior staff member has been made redundant, it is quite likely that they will look to slot back into a role they held a few years ago,” he says.

When it is viewed by the person as a stop gap measure, “it can result in a fairly sticky outcome”.

“Our experience has been that some people in this situation don’t want to do what is required as part of the job description and this causes a lot of stress and pressure for the team.

“The most obvious risk is that when the market recovers, they’ll step back into a more senior role, or even worse, they’ll continue to look for this role while in their step-down position, viewing it as a temporary measure.”

In the worst case scenario, “step-down employees” may be rusty when returning to work they did a few years ago, and may even avoid certain tasks, Comrie says.

However, he acknowledges the reality that some senior staff who have lost jobs are having to lower their sights in order to be re-employed.

“There are people who have no choice but to take a step down,” he says.

“This recession has been particularly hard on middle management.”

He says that while the recruitment market is showing signs of life, with Potentia seeing more newly-created roles as opposed to replacement ones in its listings, and an overall growth in listings in July and August compared with June, “this recent resurgence we’ve seen hasn’t benefitted the senior end of the market”.

Rather, “the hiring activity we’ve seen over the past few months is in operational and build roles. That is, developers, testers, implementers and support people, much more than the creation of key leadership roles.

“Roles are still relatively hotly contested, but there is less candidate choice for those that are hiring than there was in March and April this year, the only time in the last seven years when the market has actually been awash with talent.”

Scott Groombridge, managing director of project recruitment specialist Sead, says he’s seeing candidates look for roles that are a step down from positions they’ve held recently.

“This is happening more with the senior roles, such as project managers,” he says.

“It’s simply that there is more supply and demand, and so competition heats up.”

This can lead to less than ideal situations in the workplace, Groombridge says.

“First, colleagues around these people can feel threatened as someone with more skills is working with them, who they are inevitably compared to, and second, when the market changes, these people then become unsettled, as there are greener pastures elsewhere.

“On the other side of the coin, however, clients are getting staff that are more effective,” he says.

Steve McGowan, IT division manager at Robert Half NZ (pictured), says some senior people are being made redundant and then accepting jobs with less responsibility than the position they held.

“For example, a month ago I got an IT manager who used to be a Cobol and Ingres developer and she said ‘I’ll go back to that’,” McGowan says.

In another case, a former development manager who used to be a Delphi developer went back to Delphi development, he says.

“Both those individuals were made redundant.”

While the phenomena of candidates taking on roles they held prior to senior positions “isn’t widespread”, it’s common enough for those two examples to spring to mind, McGowan says.

“There aren’t as many senior roles out there,” he says.

Those senior roles that do come up attract “a lot of applicants”.

“People are taking lower salaries to get the same kind of job, especially senior developers and business analysts.”

One example is a .Net developer who was earning $80,000 and took another .Net job for $65,000 recently, he says.

“Employers are paying where the market is, and the market is low.”

However, while some areas are seeing pay reductions, in others, employers are still paying similar rates to those before the recession, McGowan says.

He hasn’t heard of any cases where a former senior manger taking on a role with less responsibility has caused friction in the workplace, but he does believe that when the market improves, there will be an exodus of such people.

“It will be a déjà vu feeling.

“There will be a shortage of good candidates and those who are being underpaid at the moment will go elsewhere.”

AbsoluteIT director Grant Burley says overqualified candidates are applying for jobs they’ve done in the past and “could easily do in a new role”.

“A number have been open to considering positions they’re overqualified for,” Burley says.

Candidates will look at all avenues to get work, he says, and “if there is a job they could potentially do, that involves taking a drop in salary and responsibility, they’ll take it”.

AbsoluteIT is seeing multiple suitable candidates for many vacancies.

Burley says that while there is potential for candidates taking jobs they’re overqualified for to cause workplace friction, most employers are aware of such issues.

“We have had examples of where clients have said, ‘We want the right people and we don’t want someone who just needs a job’.”

Most employers “are wary of overqualified candidates and want the right kind of person, who will stay.

“They are aware that if they take on an overqualified candidate, the candidate may be there for a short tenure.”

He says that, overall, the recruitment market is improving.

“We have had a mixture of factors come into play. Heading out of last year there was a new government and things slowed down. That happens every election, and it can have an effect on the recruitment market,” Wellington-based Burley says.

“However, we’ve come through that and some sectors, such as telecommunications, are very busy,” he says.

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