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IT Workers Hard to Find, Despite Growing Demand

Dec 15, 2009 IT Workers Hard to Find, Despite Growing Demand

By Austin Light

CHARLOTTE — Local staffing agencies say there’s a shortage in the IT employment field, and it’s not due to a lack of jobs, but a lack of people to fill them.

Frances Queen, CEO of Queen Associates Inc., a business and technology consulting and staffing firm based in Charlotte, said the shortage has been around for “quite a while,” but it’s been masked by the struggling economy.

“There was so much press given to jobs going offshore when large companies started outsourcing that everyone thought there were no more jobs here,” Queen said. “That hurt us because college kids didn’t go into those careers, and now we need them.”

Those careers include software developers, network systems and data communications analysts, programmers and computer engineers. Queen said she has seen more activity in those fields lately, with the past two months being her company’s busiest all year. The jump is especially unusual around the holidays, she said.

Michelle Fish, CEO of Integra Staffing, another Charlotte-based staffing agency, also reports an increase in IT demand.

“Our clients are across the country, but there are many here in Charlotte as well looking for these positions,” she said. “I’ve seen a lot of relocation lately. We just had two in the past week come here for IT jobs.”

Fish said she thinks the shortage stems from companies that cut back too much during the recession and from mergers and buyouts.

The former has led to more contract work through staffing agencies like Integra and Queen Associates. And while mergers and buyouts have led to job losses, they also have created jobs as IT technicians are needed for systems convergence and troubleshooting. New positions are being created to support content management as larger companies incorporate the operations of smaller companies.

According to Wells Fargo’s Web site, the bank has more than two dozen tech positions to fill, including several in Charlotte, while Bank of America has 54 such openings, more than 30 in the Charlotte area.

Queen said it’s not just the big banks and Fortune 500 companies looking for IT professionals; she hears demand from businesses of all sizes.

“When you say that there is a shortage, people are shocked,” Queen said. “But the jobs are out there for those that have the skills to do them.”

However, finding people with the right skills locally is becoming increasingly difficult, she said.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, college freshmen’s interest in computer science has dropped by 59 percent in the last four years, despite the fact that technology jobs take up five slots on the bureau’s Fastest Growing Occupations list. By 2012, Queen speculated, the demand for computer science graduates could be more than two times greater than the supply.

“In the U.S., only about 1 percent of graduates receive degrees in science; that’s compared to 38 percent in Korea,” Queen said. “I’m seeing a lot of these jobs go to foreign nationals. … We can’t find enough Americans.”

That’s not to say there isn’t local talent available. The University of North Carolina at Charlotte reported a surge of 19 percent in computer science enrollment last year, saying on its computer science Web site that students and parents are beginning to realize tech careers are “less susceptible to economic downturn than other fields.”

Unfortunately, Queen said, some corporations tend to overlook young, talented college graduates because of a lack of experience.

“We have some really bright, intelligent talent coming out of our universities,” Queen said. “Companies should not be ignoring them.”

Another shortage within the IT community: women. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics also reports that 2009 may be the year that women make up the majority of the workforce, for the first time ever, but they’ve still got a way to go in the tech industry.

According to Bureau of Labor Statistics reports, only 9 percent of female professionals were employed in high-paying computer and engineering fields in 2008.

But tech jobs will continue to be in demand, and Queen believes that preparing Charlotte’s workforce to handle the demand should take top priority in local schools.

“We should start even in kindergarten, encouraging our students in STEM [Science, Technology, Engineering and Math] fields,” she said.

Fish believes tech skills are invaluable in any career field. “IT is going strong right now. I wouldn’t say it’s recession-proof, but I would definitely say that there always seems to be some demand for those with technical and creative skills,” Fish said. “People that can think outside the box in IT are valuable.”

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