Demand for highly skilled workers will increase Service sector needs computer programmers, software developers

January 18, 1998|By Sean Somerville | Sean Somerville,SUN STAFF

To see where Maryland's job growth is headed this year, look no further than Columbia-based RWD Technologies Inc.

RWD Technologies, which helps Fortune 200 companies harness technology and improve productivity, added about 150 people last year to bring its total employment to 800. Next year at this time, the company figures to have about 1,000 workers.

"The overarching trend that we see -- really the focus of our business -- is the increasing use of technology in the workplace and the increasing complexity of that technology," said Ronald E. Holtz, RWD's chief financial officer.

Translated, that means that RWD has jobs for people trained in software development, information technology and manufacturing processes.

RWD is at the epicenter of what economists call the business services sector of the economy. With about 189,000 people, it is the state's second or third largest sector -- roughly tied with health services and trailing local government by about 10,000, according to the Regional Economic Studies Institute at Towson University.

Business services account for more than 8 percent of the state's roughly 2.2 million nonagricultural jobs. And the sector is growing.

"In 1998, we expect to see about 10,000 new jobs in the sector, which would take it to about 206,000," said Mike Funk, an economist with the Regional Economic Studies Institute at Towson University.

That 5.2 percent growth rate is well over twice the RESI's projected statewide growth rate of 2.2 percent.

Fueling the growth of business services is a rise in demand for advertising, computer and data processing, legal and a range of other services.

PPS Information Systems Staffing in Towson, which places high-technology workers in jobs, had to add four people to its eight-person staff last year to handle the workload. PPS expects to add three more this year. The company's clients include financial institutions and insurance companies.

"In the last three years, we've doubled our business each year in terms of placements," said Neal Fisher, the company's president. "We expect that trend to continue."

Workers most in demand are network engineers, database administrators and client server programmers. Also needed: Programmers to work the year 2000 problem, the bug that keeps computers from understanding dates beyond 1999. "Computer people are extremely scarce," Fisher said.

That high demand and low supply translate into high salaries. A network engineer can earn between $45,000 and $65,000 a year; a programmer between between $40,000 and $60,000; and a database administrator between $55,000 and $80,000. "I definitely see a future on the network side," Fisher said.

The jobs at RWD are varied. Some require computer skills. Others require experience running a factory. The average starting salary is $40,000 to $60,000. "These are good jobs," Holtz said.

Also driving growth in the business services sector is the use of temporary workers. Employers need workers to handle higher workloads, but do not want the commitment and expense of permanent workers. "That has become a popular strategy of employers, and it has contributed to what we call a contingent work force," said Patrick Arnold, director of labor market analysis for Maryland. "That is workers that are on demand."

Despite the lack of a traditional bond with workers, he said, "these people are able to stay employed."

The number of jobs in a smaller, related sector -- engineering, accounting and research -- is is expected to climb rapidly.

Health services, a sector that employs about 190,000 people in Maryland, will likely experience slow growth in 1998. The industry must balance growing demand for services and the need to keep its costs low.

"The category is so large that even low growth will create a significant number of jobs," Arnold said. "There is such an unmet need for a variety of health services and the population is getting older and older. There may be a few pauses in that sector, but in the long term it's going to be up."

The categories that make up the retail sector of the economy, which together account for about 425,000 jobs, will add jobs this year but at a slow rate. Economists also warn that the growth will be uneven among food stores, department stores and apparel stores.

Many large retailers are opening stores, but not adding people at the same rate. "They seem to be doing more with fewer people," Arnold said. "If the staffing becomes leaner, even as stores are being opened, then the rate of growth will be retarded."

Also adding jobs will be the real estate and insurance industries. Employment in the banking sector, which lost jobs in 1997, will grow slightly, if at all. That depends on whether mergers slow down or pick up.

With real estate healthy, the number of construction jobs should increase, even though one huge project -- the Baltimore Ravens football stadium -- is almost finished.

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