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Top-shelf talent sitting pretty in eyes of software recruiters

But these hot prospects aren’t being wined and dined for their prowess on the playing field. Instead, these are software developers and systems engineers with skill and technology on their side.
Every baseball team needs a left- handed pitcher and will pay oodles to sign him. Similarly, almost every technology-based company needs people with programming and development skills, and likewise will fork over a pretty penny to get them.
“There are a limited number of people with those skills,” says Timothy Kelly, senior vice president of Rochester Software Associates Inc. “It’s definitely an excellent market for systems programmers. We have four positions open now and have had (them open) for some time.”
Rochester’s shortage of qualified candidates–evident for at least two years now–mirrors an even longer-lasting trend nationwide, observers say.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics lists systems analysts and computer engineers as two of the top four fastest-growing occupations. Both fields are expected to grow by at least 90 percent between 1994 and 2005.
“There is a real shortage in quality programmers in UNIX and C. Those people are well-employed in Rochester,” Kelly says.
Growth in the local technology market is an obvious reason for the shortage.
“You have some major corporations and smaller companies (locally) that are increasing applications and need skilled people,” he says.
The growth of the Internet and World Wide Web has contributed to the shortage as well–in two very different ways.
First, it has created an increasing need for UNIX-trained people, which means most now can write their own tickets.
“There are so many different applications for the same skills, it spreads the talent thinner,” Kelly says. “Even when you find someone and offer them 25 to 30 percent higher (pay), their present employer will then match it and they will stay.”
Second, notes Martin Palmeri, recruiting manager at JTS Computer Services Inc., the increase in job seeking and recruiting on the Internet–particularly attractive to people already in high-tech careers–means people are apt to change jobs faster and more easily.
“People are aware of what other positions are paying. It raises the prices (salaries),” he says. “As the demand is increasing, the salaries are increasing.”
Kelly says these “high-demand” positions offer starting salaries ranging from $30,000 for recent college graduates to $80,000 for those with experience.
“Once you get into the $80,000 range in Rochester, there is somewhat of a ceiling,” he says.
The market allows programmers and developers with the hottest skills to pick and choose whom they want to work for, what they want to work on and where they want to work.
“They can find a job in almost any market in the U.S.,” Kelly says.
Richard Francis, the Rochester regional manager for Actium Corp., says large and small companies need certified Microsoft trainers, systems engineers and program developers.
“There just doesn’t seem to be enough to go around,” he says. “Whenever we find someone with the appropriate skills, we hire them–even if we don’t have a position open.”
Palmeri adds that most of the current needs in the Rochester area focus on the client-server area.
But, “the larger companies, Eastman Kodak (Co.) and Xerox Corp., are hiring these people also,” he says.
Thomas Grassi, information systems recruiter at CDI Corp. in Penfield, says companies are looking for people with work experience who are able to come in without much guidance.
“The No. 1 (need) is C object-oriented design. Everybody needs it across the board,” he says.
Francis says technical people who keep themselves updated on the latest skills will find themselves in high demand. Those who do not keep current will find themselves lagging.
“It all (depends on) them being willing and able to keep themselves very current in leading technology. Those that do that will be able to command their choice of positions,” he says.
Michael Lutz, professor of computer science and coordinator of the software-engineering program at Rochester Institute of Technology, says RIT officials have heard repeatedly about a mismatch between education and what industry really needs.
So RIT launched a new software-engineering program aimed at providing skilled workers to fill the huge demand. The new program tries to teach the theoretical engineering and computer-science concepts, as well as practical applications.
Industry officials say money serves as the primary recruiting carrot.
“What it comes down to is the salary. You can give signing bonuses, but it all comes down to the compensation,” Palmeri says.
Officials add, however, that employers need also to create a stimulating atmos-phere, providing training and making the work interesting.
Grassi says all the jobs pay well, so skilled people know they can find another job at the same or better pay. “They may not like the work or get along with their boss,” he says as reasons why a worker may move.
In many situations, he notes, smaller companies cannot compete with big companies: “Unfortunately, money does talk.”
So, adds Kelly, does the size and security of a large corporation.
Smaller companies can combat the big guns by beefing up other attractions, such as location and the fact that the job is fun and challenging. And some, Kelly notes, prefer a smaller organization where they can make a “bigger impact.”
“We stress more the environment, little perks, a casual organization,” he says.
Francis explains that Actium competes by investing in training the staff. The company also will train and develop junior programmers.
Peter Hessney, executive vice president for business development and a principal at Questra Corp., says his company stresses its corporate culture and leading-edge work.
“We have a unique culture. We give every person a “piece of the rock,”’ he says of the company’s stock plan. “It’s one of the ways we compete.”
Hessney thinks the fact that Questra’s technology development is so advanced is another reason the company can attract top-shelf talent. “We offer more technology variety.” And, like Actium and others in the industry, Questra provides plenty of employee training.
Industry officials say companies must look in many places to find and attract qualified personnel. This includes traditional avenues such as referrals, networking, job fairs and creative advertising. But it also involves newer measures such as the Internet, recruiter co-ops and referral bonuses.
“These people are not out of work,” Grassi says of top-flight techies. “They are not sitting home looking at the want ads.”
Francis says Actium offers financial bonuses to reward employees who refer technology talent to the company.
JTS maintains a data base of 9,000 targeted people whom the company routinely contacts, Palmeri says. JTS also belongs to a recruiter co-op that allows companies to network with fellow recruit-ers throughout the country.
He says Rochester’s technology job market lags roughly a year and a half to two years behind major cities. That means Rochester soon should be facing a shortage in IBM mainframe experts; this is fueled by a growing need for people skilled in conducting date conversions to allow mainframes to handle the millennium change.
Industry officials say local colleges and universities, particularly RIT, continue to provide skilled entry-level people. The new program at RIT, which began this semester with 22 freshmen enrolled, also should help fill the demand–eventually.
“We are getting a very good response from local technology companies,” says Lutz, noting that program graduates won’t be in the job market for a few years yet. “Now all we have to do is deliver.”
(Mike Dickinson is a Rochester-area free-lance writer.)


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