Wanted: Skilled workers -- but only those with the right skills need apply

As the U.S. economy has tightened, so have IT job prospects. But there are still some hiring bright spots.

Despite high energy prices, rising inflation, falling retail sales, a rough housing market and a host of other troubling economic indicators, IT hiring is still showing some signs of life.

You just need to have the right skills — or apply to the right kind of company. And for some of those would-be employers, finding people to fill the jobs they have available isn't proving to be easy.

For example, there are plenty of open jobs for software developers with experience building wireless or embedded applications, according to Jim Lanzalotto, vice president of strategy and marketing at Yoh Services LLC, a Philadelphia-based staffing agency and outsourcing vendor. "It's a dead-on market for those guys, with unemployment rates of less than 2%," Lanzalotto said.

Also in demand, he said, are IT workers and consultants who have SAP know-how or are familiar with rival ERP applications, such as Oracle's PeopleSoft human resources software. SAP AG itself has estimated that about 30,000 more technical specialists are needed worldwide to fill a skills gap for its apps, Lanzalotto noted.

On the other hand, he said IT projects that don't "touch the customers" may be canceled or deferred because of tight budgets. As a result, companies that are in hiring mode now are typically trying to use IT to help boost their revenues, not to make internal improvements, Lanzalotto said.

Amazon.com Inc. is a case in point. Amazon was one of several companies that sent recruiters to the O'Reilly Open Source Convention in July, in hopes of finding the right candidates for IT jobs that it has available.

Brian Krueger, Amazon's vice president of global talent acquisition, said in a follow-up interview that the online retailer and Web services company is looking to hire a variety of new IT workers "to fuel our growth." That includes software developers and people with experience in designing enterprise-class systems, as well as development and technical program managers, network engineers and tech support workers. Specific skills that are being sought include Java and C++ expertise from a programming standpoint, plus experience working with Linux, Windows, Unix and Mac OS X.

But Krueger indicated that attracting candidates for all those positions hasn't been easy, partly because of Amazon's retail-oriented image. He said that at the O'Reilly conference, many attendees asked the company's recruiters what they were even doing there.

"A lot of times, people put us only in the retail category, and that is not correct," Krueger said, pointing to newer offerings such as Amazon's cloud computing and online storage services. "They don't get that we're a technology employer."

Greg Whalin, chief technology officer at Meetup Inc., which operates a Web site for people who want to organize groups around shared interests in their local communities, said that as far as he's concerned, the economy isn't having any affect on IT hiring. "From what I hear on the street, most companies in our sector are aggressively hiring," he said. "It's difficult to find candidates."

Meetup, which currently employs about 50 people, has five open positions and is seeking another 10 to 15 workers to fill job openings that it expects to post in the near future. The New York-based company is looking to add Java developers and front-end Web designers, as well as project managers, systems administrators and quality assurance engineers. "We're kind of across the board," Whalin said. "Whatever you need to build and run Web sites, we're hiring for."

White Oak Technologies Inc., a vendor of tools for searching large databases, has been having such a hard time finding qualified workers to fill open positions that it distributed a flyer at the O'Reilly conference offering a $2,500 bounty to people who help it find worthy job candidates. According to the handout, the Silver Spring, Md.-based company is seeking application, Web client and systems developers as well as a Linux and Unix systems administrator for its data center.

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