Cloud of dot-com layoffs has silver lining for workers

Many find jobs in sector hungry to fill positions

January 07, 2001|By BOSTON GLOBE

Hardly a day goes by anymore without another round of dot-com company layoffs.

Last week, it was at CMGI-controlled Engage Inc., an online ad firm based in Andover, Mass. About 550 jobs will be cut in coming months, the company said.

And last month, a record 10,459 dot-com workers nationwide lost their jobs, up 19 percent from November, according to Challenger, Gray & Christmas, an outplacement company in Chicago that has been tracking the layoffs.

It has been a rocky time in what was once considered paradise. But that doesn't necessarily spell doom and gloom for those hitting the streets. Despite signs of a slowing economy, recruiters and industry specialists say there are still jobs aplenty for those with the right computer skills.

If anything, the layoffs help stem what was an 8.3 percent vacancy rate six months ago in the software and Internet industry, said Joyce Plotkin, president of the Massachusetts Software and Internet Council.

If 550 layoffs had happened in Charlotte, N.C., "that would have massive implications for that region," said Steve McMahan, information technology division president for kforce.com, which specializes in IT. "But this ... market is so large and the shortages have been so great that it really just helps things."

Plotkin credits the growth - and shortage of people - to a deep entrepreneurial sense in the Boston region. Also, Plotkin said, big companies such as EMC Corp., Cisco Systems and Sun Microsystems have committed themselves to hiring thousands of workers in the region.

"It's always difficult when people get laid off," Plotkin said. "But there should be cause for optimism in terms of keeping these people in good jobs in this state."

The news is not as good for people with nontechnical skills, such as in marketing, sales and customer relations.(It's not clear what the breakdown is of the Engage employees who will lose their jobs. Company officials declined to disclose which jobs were cut.)

"For those kind of people it's not going to be as easy a shift, since the economy has been in a flux of late," said Brian Hoffman, managing partner for Winter, Wyman, a recruiting firm. "November and December have been real soft months, and a lot of companies are holding back in terms of being too bullish right now.

"I think they will be dealing with a more cautious climate. It's not like it was six or eight months ago."

Nor is it like it was before for IT workers, in the sense, said Hoffman, "that they will have same-day service" in landing a new job.

It might take a bit longer compared with six or eight months ago, he said, but a resume is still likely to get a good look if it contains hot programming words such as XHML, Java, Java Beans, C++, SQL databases or Unix-Linux.

That doesn't mean there isn't skepticism emerging among people in the IT sector. Recruiters say IT workers are being a bit more cautious about how they pick their jobs.

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