Area talent shortage `hurting the bottom line'

Tech firms need more people

June 21, 2006|By STACEY HIRSH | STACEY HIRSH,SUN REPORTER

For some local technology companies, the quest for qualified workers has gone like this: Calling businesses that are closing departments in hope of hiring their laid-off workers. Finding employees willing to telecommute from hundreds of miles away. Conducting "virtual" job fairs on the Internet.

One Maryland business even called a software manufacturer they work with to get referrals on workers who are proficient in using their software.

All are new approaches to finding talent for these growing technology firms, ones that have become increasingly necessary as the market for qualified employees continues to tighten.

"Anything you could think of, we're going to do because we're just running into a situation that we can't risk it," said Larry Letow, chief operating officer of Bowie-based Convergence Technology Consulting. "I could bill more hours if I could find more people. It's definitely hurting the bottom line to a certain degree."

Indeed, experts say that mantras like "war on talent" that were heard during the tech boom of the late '90s are coming back. Job candidates who once were choosing between one or two offers are getting three and four, and gone are the days when employers could interview multiple applicants and take their time deciding. Companies are responding with innovative ways to find talent, greater investments in workplace culture and increased salaries.

Skilled tech workers' hourly wages increased 4.62 percent in the first quarter of 2006, compared with the corresponding quarter a year ago, according to a salary index compiled by Philadelphia-based technology talent and outsourcing company Yoh.Hardware engineers, for instance, earned an average of $69.01 an hour during the first quarter, while Java developers earned $59.06 on average, according to the Yoh Index, which is calculated from employment activity of more than 5,000 technology professionals.

"Companies are bursting at the seams," said Steve Kosak, executive director of the Greater Baltimore Technology Council. "They can't get enough bodies to help continue that growth."

Bob Sadler is a case in point. A systems analyst at the World Bank whose position was eliminated in 2001, Sadler spent five years underemployed and looking for a job in his area of expertise. He posted his resume on so many job sites that he needed a folder just to keep track of all the passwords. He sent out four or five resumes a day, but wasn't even getting automated responses.

Then, about six months ago, the tables turned. Businesses looking to hire were e-mailing him instead.

"All of the sudden it was like somebody flipped a switch," said Sadler, who took a job in March at Lutherville-based Mind Over Machines Inc. after the company saw his resume online and contacted him.

Maryland added 2,800 high-tech jobs in 2004, fewer than only Virginia and Florida for that year, and the numbers are expected to keep going up, according to the most recent data available from AeA, a trade organization that represents the tech industry. Maryland tech workers earned an average of $75,000 a year, AeA said.

The demand for these workers is higher in some specialties than others. Web developers, for instance, were rock stars in the late 1990s, but over time the service they provide has become more widely available and more affordable, said Jim Lanzalotto, vice president of strategy and marketing for Yoh.

On the other hand, there's an unfilled need for highly specialized workers in mature technologies and those proficient in up-and-coming technologies, Lanzalotto said. For instance, workers adept in Duet, a new software developed by Microsoft Corp. and German software company SAP, are in demand, he said.

"What we see going on right now more than anything else is the beginnings of a supply-not-meeting-the-demand of hiring managers in particular markets," Lanzalotto said.

Those in the tech community are bracing for more difficulty finding talented workers as the military's base realignment and closure process brings an expected 40,000 to 60,000 jobs to the region during the next six years.

To help get ahead of such problems, Advertising.com's Chief Information Officer Tom Iler showed up in March at the Greater Baltimore Tech Council's business plan competition, called the Mosh Pit. Started in 2002, Mosh Pit seeks to encourage entrepreneurship at the college level and link students with the business community. As part of the competition, students present their ideas to a room of professionals and then are encouraged to mingle - or "mosh" - with their audience to make connections.

Iler was there to network with possible recruits. Advertising.com, a unit of America Online, has been trying to hire workers faster, knowing candidates are going on multiple interviews and could get another offer at any time. But Iler said that as demand for more competitive salaries and benefits increases, Advertising.com's profitability and corporate culture mitigate some recruiting issues.

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