Hiring Expectations Slow, But There’s Hope on the Horizon

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William Shakespeare once said, “Expectation is the root of all heartache.” If that’s true, the hearts of IT professionals who expected strong hiring in the first half of 2009 might need a little mending.

According to a report from career Web site Dice.com, seven out of 10 IT recruiters surveyed in the last half of 2008 planned to curtail their hiring in the next several months as they expected the market to slow down. The sampling included more than 1,000 corporate hiring managers and recruiting, staffing and consulting companies. This represented an increase from five out of 10 in a previous report.

“We were disappointed, but we were not surprised,” said Tom Silver, senior vice president and chief marketing officer for Dice.com. “We do attribute the decline in jobs largely to the economy. Certainly, we’re seeing a series of things that are unprecedented in terms of the downturn. Interestingly enough, if you look back historically at the job count over the last 12 months, we were relatively flat in the January-through-August time frame. But when we really started to see things decline was mid-September.”

Some of the larger tech centers such as Silicon Valley and New York City have seen a fairly significant drop-off, Silver said.

“They’re down by about 40 to 50 percent year over year,” he said.

However, some markets remain strong. In Washington, for example, the job count was relatively normal for January 2009 compared to January 2008, perhaps because the government has been hiring. And according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, while the overall unemployment rate is 8.1 percent, that number is much lower for technology specifically.

“While it still is higher than anybody would like it, unemployment amongst technology professionals is still significantly better than average, suggesting that there still is reasonable demand for tech pros,” Silver said.

To boost their chances of keeping the jobs they currently have, IT professionals should do the best they can to get placed on a critical work project, Silver said.

“By critical, I mean it’s a project which has a near-term return on investment and a measurable return on investment,” he said. “It has strategic importance within the organization in terms of infrastructure improvement. It requires that an IT pro [has] a good skill set that is a mix of programming, as well as strategic, organizational and communication skills. And it makes sure those skills are finely tuned and allows that individual to be a high performer within their organization.”

Other news that might make IT professionals’ hearts sing is that the American Recovery and Investment Act contains about $19 billion for health IT spending, suggesting an unprecedented boom for that industry.

“I think this will be a solid industry for the next 15 to 20 years,” said Beverly Bell, who serves on the health care delivery solutions team at the Computer Sciences Corp. (CSC). “We’re going to continually see changes in the way medicine is practiced, relying more heavily on information technology. And there may even be growth opportunities to get into imaging and radiographic machines that are all IT-based. So you have to sometimes look beyond just the information systems to the other technology that’s present in a hospital.”

Project management skills also will be valuable in these new roles, Bell said. She also recommended that professionals looking into health care IT should first tap into the industry’s professional organizations, such as AMIA (American Medical Informatics Association) and HIMSS (Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society).

“These Web sites have a wealth of information about what’s going on in the health care IT arena,” she said.

– Elizabeth Lisican, editor (at) certmag (dot) com

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