Feature: Recruitment scene in capital slows, but activity remains

Change of government and economic downturn cited as reasons

Two weeks ago, videoconferencing vendor Tandberg opened an office in Wellington, while the Labour Department recently committed $4 million to a server and infrastructure maintenance contract with Fujitsu.

These sort of developments indicate there’s still plenty of IT activity going on in the capital, though Government CIO Laurence Millar says the frantic IT recruitment scene that has characterised the capital for the past few years is no more.

Demand for IT staff “is down on the basis that government departments have had expenditure reviewed.

“There has been an initial slowdown while agencies review spending plans, matching the new government’s priorities.”

It’s a case of a return to normal after several years of heightened hiring activity, Millar says.

“For the past three to four years, there has been an excess of demand over supply.

“Now, it’s coming back into balance.”

There are more applicants for government IT positions than in recent years, he says.

“Previously, you’d be lucky to get applicants for some roles.”

There is a broad move towards employing fulltime staff rather than contractors, “but that’s tempered by the long-term financial commitment that needs to be made” with permanent staff, Millar says.

“In certain niches, such as network architecture, security auditing and making business cases,” contractors remain desirable, he says.

Wellington IT recruiters also say there has been a slowdown in hiring lately.

Ben Pearson, Wellington-based director of Beyond Recruitment, says activity in the IT recruitment scene always dies down over the December-January period.

However, the upswing which normally happens in February and March isn’t as strong this year as in the past, Pearson says.

“The influx of vacancies is lower than what we’d expect, approximately 30% less.”

That doesn’t necessarily mean recruiters aren’t busier, however.

“We’ve noticed that the quality of the vacancies is higher.

“When the market was more buoyant, you’d get speculative vacancies that could change during the hiring process.”

Now, however, clients are only putting forward positions to recruiters to fill after careful consideration as to whether they’re needed, Pearson says. “We’re still filling the same number of vacancies, even though the inflow of vacancies is less”, he says.

Areas where demand for staff is still strong include testing and Java and .Net development.

In those fields, “we still have an excess of vacancies versus people”, he says.

Areas that are now more “candidate-rich” include project management and business analysis.

However, “there’s still only a small percentage of very high quality candidates”, Pearson says.

“The next couple of months will be tight, but there’s a lot of hope in Wellington.”

Pearson predicts a return of confidence in approximately two months, “when budgets are settled”.

Government infrastructure initiatives could boost Wellington’s IT scene, he says.

“There are things in Wellington that need to be done – if government spending initiatives kick off, that should result in some action.”

AbsoluteIT director Grant Burley says that in the capital, “there’s a definite levelling off in the number of contract roles.

“Last year, there were 20 to 30 postings a day, now there’s half that number”.

Permanent jobs are attracting more candidates, Burley says, partly because some contractors are now seeking fulltime roles.

“We’re seeing contractors who have been out of work for a while and permanent roles are an option for them.”

Overall, the Wellington IT recruitment market is slowing, he says, driven by some government departments not replacing staff.

“Competition has got tougher – we’re getting multiple applicants for each role.”

However, “there are still areas like .Net that we don’t have enough candidates for.

“Good, experienced .Net candidates are hard to find,” he says, and test analysts, business analysts and project managers are also still hard to source, he adds.

But experienced candidates with good records needn’t worry too much, Burley says.

“My mantra is that good people will always find work.”

With many organisations either cutting staff or implementing hiring freezes, there’s greater competition for many IT jobs, he says.

“We’re seeing more applications for each role and clients are becoming more particular about who they take on.

“They’re taking their time and being more considered and analytical – the recruitment process has slowed down.”

That’s in stark contrast to how things were during the past couple of years, he says.

“Before, they always got a person on board ASAP – they’d try to fast-track it.”

Not only are employers taking more time to assess candidates, they’re taking more time to ascertain whether jobs should exist.

“They’re making sure the vacancy is needed.”

Government isn’t Wellington’s only IT driver; there are some innovative technology companies in the capital. Burley says “there are pockets of growth in the private sector, but many larger employers have hiring freezes in place.”

Jimmy McGee, head of Trade Me jobs, says an analysis of recent Wellington IT job listings shows that “demand for IT people has dropped in line with the broader market”.

The capital is “no better or worse off than the market generally”, McGee says.

There has been a “marked decrease” in jobs for programmers, developers and testers, “but at the other end of the scale, demand has been robust for database people and networking and systems staff.”

The drop-off in demand for developers and programmers “suggests businesses are being less expansionary – they’re not looking to develop new applications”.

Likewise, the need for testers has fallen for the same reason, he says.

The networking, systems and database end of the Wellington IT job market is holding up, and while it’s not as candidate-short as six months ago, “it’s still hard to find good people, and when employers find them, they tend to hold on to them”.

While the overall number of jobs has shrunk, the proportion of contracting versus fulltime Wellington IT jobs listed on Trade Me has tilted slightly towards contractors, McGee says.

“For December, 13% of Wellington IT roles were contract, but for January, the figure was 22%.”

McGee believes that reflects a preference by some employers for staffing flexibility.

Overall, “there’s no evidence of a sharper decline in Wellington than in the rest of the country and there’s still demand for well-qualified, high-calibre candidates, especially those with skills in essential services,” he says.

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