Where the jobs are

A Virginia mortgage investment firm is among US companies enjoying rich pickings as resumes fly in from IT workers laid off from local high-tech firms such as AOL Time Warner and WorldCom.

          A Virginia mortgage investment firm is among US companies enjoying rich pickings as resumes fly in from IT workers laid off from local high-tech firms such as AOL Time Warner and WorldCom.

          In mid-March, Freddie Mac had 20 openings in its IS division, as compared with 30 IS openings at any given time in 2002 and 60 in 2001. However, Freddie Mac as a whole receives 10,000 resumes per month, says Bill Ledman, senior vice president of IS and services. The company employs about 1000 IS workers and attributes its growth to the refinancing boom.

          "We sit in the Dulles corridor - the heart of the internet. Because of the tech crash, we have a lot more people to pick from," Ledman says.

          Michael Erana, CTO at Kvaerner Philadelphia Shipyard, received 200-plus resumes when he recently advertised a CAD co-ordinator position. "I received far more than I could go through; I felt bad," he says. Now he relies on word of mouth.

          Erana's eight-person IT team supports the shipyard's 1500 employees, and he is looking to add a senior Unix administrator, a part-time web developer and up to three desktop support specialists.

          According to a recent quarterly hiring index, firms such as Freddie Mac and Kvaerner are in the minority. Of the 1400 CIOs polled by recruiter Robert Half Technology, only 9% planned to increase their IT workforces in the second quarter of 2003 - the lowest percentage since the second quarter of 2001. However, 5% say they would cut their workforces in the second quarter of 2003 - the highest percentage of executives since the second quarter of 2001. A full 86% of executives planned no changes in hiring activity.

          Many CIOs are keeping hiring plans on hold because of continued economic uncertainty, says Katherine Spencer Lee, executive director at Robert Half Technology. However, "Many of our clients tell us it's not all gloom and doom," she says. "They will spend but they want to see convincing signs of economic rebound."

          Sixteen percent of the IT executives hiring are in the business services and transportation sectors, while only 1% of leaders from the same sectors planned job cuts. Managers from the financial, insurance and real estate services sector followed closely behind, with 15% saying they would hire, compared with 9% of their industry colleagues who foresaw a drop in workforce.

          Of those hiring, 54% say business growth was the primary driver for increasing IT staff, followed by systems upgrades at 16%. More than a quarter of CIOs (28%) wanted to boost their help desk/end user support departments, while 23% wanted to increase the number of network professionals. Some 29% of CIOs from the professional services sector - the highest number of CIOs from any sector - experienced the greatest demand for network experts.

          One industry with growing staffing needs is the military IT services sector, reflecting the government's bid to beef up the nation's security. BAE Systems PLC's Information Systems Sector (ISS), which provides IT systems and services to the intelligence and military communities, plans to hire between 500 and 700 technology experts this year; while network services provider Wamnet Government Services is searching for 500 IT professionals nationwide in 2003.

          Wamnet is a subcontractor to Electronic Data Systems for its $US6.9 billion Navy Marine Corps Intranet (NMCI) contract, and 420 of those new hires will work on that project. The remaining 80 will work on Wamnet's other government contracts. There are currently 170 openings for senior-, mid- and entry-level network executives for the NMCI deal. Wamnet expects to hire 80 people per month, peaking with 200 job offers in the summer.

          John Heller, a senior executive at Wamnet, says the company receives between 20 and 100 resumes per job posting from "some very qualified people." One-third of the applicants are people who already work at the Navy bases, either for the Navy or other contractors, and others are candidates who have carrier-class network experience from various Baby Bells nationwide.

          Attracting those individuals is no easier task because of the state of the economy.

          "The majority of applicants are gainfully employed and somewhat sought after," says Mike Barbee, Wamnet's president and general manager.

          John Sebra, senior director of human resources at BAE Systems ISS, agrees. The firm has openings for software and systems engineers but finding the right fit is a challenge because applicants need to pass security clearance by a government agency and be comfortable working in a structured environment.

          "There's a great deal of competition for these candidates," he says.

          Although Kvaerner's Erana says the market for job hunters in Philadelphia is brutal, attracting and retaining talent is still tough.

          "There is a flight risk of the people I'm looking for," he says, adding that he's not rushing to find the right fit.

          Erana says many of the people who were laid off are midlevel, while "the senior guys are never let go."

          "There are a lot of people out there from the former regional Bell operating companies, but they have tunnel-vision skill sets and don't have enough enterprise expertise," he says. "They can configure Cisco switches, but do they know [quality of service, voice over IP] prioritisation?"

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