Tech Campuses Bustle With Recruiters

Recent computer science grads get higher salaries, but midcareer IT workers may face perils.

Computer science graduates and others with IT skills appear to be in demand: Starting salary offers are up, according to a recent report, and university officials say IT recruiters are crowding campuses.

But if youre a high-tech worker in the middle of your career, the job outlook may be less certain, as cutbacks continue at some of the top IT vendors.

Recruiters are on college campuses constantly looking for people, says Emanuel Contomanolis, associate vice president of co-op and career services at the Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) in New York. And it isnt just vendors doing the recruiting, he says, pointing to rising interest in tech grads among certain vertical industries.

For instance, Contomanolis says financial services firms, which typically had been focusing their college hiring efforts on students with financial- related degrees, are now aggressively hiring graduates with IT skills. Thats because the companies have realized that technology capabilities are going to be critical to how they differentiate themselves in the market, he adds.

The heightened interest is evident in survey data collected by the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE), which reported in September that computer science graduates have been offered an average salary of $53,051 this year, up 4.5% from last years level. Contomanolis is president-elect of Bethlehem, Pa.-based NACE, which also says that those graduating with MIS degrees this year have received an average starting salary offer of $47,407, up 4.7% year to year.

The salaries being offered to computer science graduates from the class of 2007 are the highest reported to NACE in the past seven years. The next-highest salary level was recorded in 2001, when graduates were offered $52,4703 on average.

The fact that recruiters now have a smaller pool of computer science students to choose from may be contributing to the increased salary offers. For instance, according to the Computing Research Association (CRA) in Washington, the 170 institutions in North America that grant computer science degrees up to the Ph.D. level reported a total of 10,206 bachelors degree graduates for the academic year that ended in the spring of 2006 the most recent one for which data is available. That was down by nearly one-third from the level at the start of this decade.

The drop isnt over yet, says Jay Vegso, a CRA staff member who authored a March 2007 report on the declining number of computer science graduates. Vegso has also been looking at enrollment trends, and he says he expects the decline in computer science graduates to continue for another two years or perhaps stabilize at best.

The most-cited reason for the decline is the dot-com bust; the students who graduated last spring would have enrolled when the high-tech downturn was at about its worst point. But the movement of tech jobs to lower-wage countries is also seen as a factor.

Kelly Bishop, executive director of career services at Michigan State University in East Lansing, says the interest in recent graduates is driven largely by concern about the looming retirements of baby boomers. But he adds that although employers seem to be urgently searching for new workers, companies also are going to a lot of lengths to identify a relatively short list of people they consider are going to make a difference in their organization.

Prospective employers are all eager to talk to you, but its still going to be tough to get a job, Bishop says. They are being incredibly selective.

For many established workers, the picture is less pretty than it is for new graduates. For instance, Electronic Data Systems Corp. said in a filing to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission last month that it was offering an early retirement program to about 12,000 of its 50,000 U.S. workers.

Such actions indicate that mid­career workers better beware, says Ron Hira, an assistant professor of public policy at RIT and co-author of the book Outsourcing America (American Management Association, 2005).

The same firms that are laying off thousands are clamoring that they need more foreign workers, Hira says. One interpretation of this phenomenon is that companies have no interest in retraining or retaining incumbent workers to fill those positions.

Copyright © 2007 IDG Communications, Inc.

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