The IT job market is tanking — but not for everyone

Some companies are still hiring tech workers, although the total number of IT jobs is shrinking

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 headquarter offices 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.

The overall trend is clear, and not encouraging: The number of IT jobs in the U.S. is shrinking. From November to December, IT employment 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.

The contraction in the number of jobs mirrors a decline in help-wanted listings tracked by Dice Holdings Inc., which operates the Dice online job site. Dice said it currently has about 57,000 job listings, down 35% from the same time last year.

The IT labor statistics are only likely to get worse once all of the layoffs announced in January are added to the government's figures. But 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.

Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.

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