Firms Struggle to Fill Wide Range of Job Openings
Skills in new technologies are in demand, but because companies must still support the government's aging mainframes, older skills are still important
P> Despite the rush-hour madness, the inside-the-Beltway mentality and government shutdowns, the Washington metropolitan area isn't such a bad place to work. Especially for those in the information technology industry. Telecommunications companies, systems integrators, professional services firms, and lately, Internet access providers have set up shop here. After all, even though the federal government has reduced personnel, it remains the single, largest buyer of infotech.
Unlike Silicon Valley, which is home to countless hardware and software manufacturers, the Netplex distinguishes itself as the home of infotech service providers. They have the difficult task of making new technologies, such as client/server, data warehousing, groupware and UNIX, work in the real world. But with federal agencies in their backyard, companies still have to support the aging mainframes that keep the government running every day.
As a result, Netplex firms are in a frenzy trying to fill a wide range of job openings, including mainframe programmers and analysts, software engineers, database specialists, operations support technicians and network engineers.
Science Applications International Corp., the $2 billion San Diego-based company, built its reputation in the defense electronics industry, developing command and control systems, advanced simulation systems and lightweight computers ruggedized for military use. In the past few years, however, SAIC has made a strategic move to increase its infotech service offerings, capitalizing on its experience building and integrating systems to support hospitals, law enforcement agencies, medical research organizations, and health and human services.
The growth in the company's infotech business and success in winning jobs in the area have meant a booming presence in the Washington region, said SAIC spokeswoman Sue Volek. With 5,300 employees, SAIC's Netplex population represents its largest geographic presence in the country -- surpassing even its home base in San Diego.
In fact, the company's diversification has been so successful that Volek said SAIC has more than 100 systems engineering and computer scientist jobs that can't be filled. One manager has even offered employee referral bonuses to try to fill the slots. Seasoned services people are at a premium in the area, she said. Last fall, the company held a job fair at one of its Tysons Corner offices to recruit 400 entry-level and experienced professionals to support its infotech, health care, environmental, transportation and energy businesses.
Unisys Corp.'s Federal Systems Division in McLean, Va., has a similar problem recruiting enough people. Just as SAIC diversified from defense electronics to infotech, Unisys has been undergoing a transformation from a hardware manufacturer to an infotech services provider. Although the evolution has been painful for the corporation overall, the company's federal business is enjoying the change.
A recent study by International Data Corp. of Framingham, Mass., ranked Unisys as the leading government contractor with indefinite-delivery, indefinite-quantity contracts. In fiscal 1994, Unisys had IDIQ contracts totaling $156 million, 8.3 percent of the market. Those contracts have resulted in the division's personnel growth from 2,170 last year to 3,800 this year, even as Unisys reduces its total work force.
Because the IDIQ contracts rely heavily on services, they require more personnel support, explained Maureen Flanagan, Unisys vice president of marketing and development. Some of its key 1995 awards include a $166 million contract with the Defense Finance and Accounting Service, a $200 million contract with the Internal Revenue Service and a $104 million contract with the Agriculture Department.
Although Unisys Federal traditionally has used newspaper ads, recruiting agencies and employee referrals to fill jobs, the division is starting to look at colleges and universities for some openings, Flanagan said.
The recruiting challenges of SAIC and Unisys illustrate employment trends in the Netplex's growing technology community. CorpTech, a directory publisher in Woburn, Mass., did a survey of 123 emerging Virginia technology companies with less than 1,000 employees -- companies such as BTG Inc., the $156 million company in Vienna, Va. More than 25 percent of the companies plan to expand their work force by 28.1 percent in the next year, creating 783 new jobs.
In Maryland, CorpTech collected employment projections from 109 companies, similar in size to their Virginia counterparts. More than 32 percent of the companies expect to increase personnel next year by 13.5 percent, creating 439 new jobs.
Many of the hot new jobs will support the explosion of client/server systems, consulting services and the Internet. And according to a nationwide salary survey by computer recruiters Source Edp, infotech professionals in the Washington region can expect their salaries to remain competitive with their colleagues across the country.
As companies move toward client/server systems to support internal operations and external clients, individuals with object-oriented design and programming skills using C will be in high demand, the Source Edp report said. Individuals with experience in Informix 4GL, Visual Basic and Powerbuilder also can expect growing career opportunities.
Saddled by client/server migration, corporate downsizing and a recession, companies need firms to assist them in undergoing the sometimes radical technological and management changes. As a result, demand for consultants is on the rise. Today, the infotech industry is comprised of 70 percent permanent employees and 30 percent consultants. By 2000, the percentage breakout will reverse, the recruiting firm predicted.
Infotech professionals increasingly are working as full-time consultants, moving from project to project and client to client, the Source Edp report said. The firm expects demand for consulting expertise in client/server, electronic data interchange and wide and local area networking to continue.
Finally, the need for Internet specialists also will rise, especially with about half of all Fortune 500 companies using the network. Companies need professionals with experience in Internet applications such as e-mail, the World Wide Web, Gopher, Java and Mosaic.
SALARY SURVEY ($000)
BostonWash.DC Los Angeles
Mainframe sr. programmer58.655.058.0
Client/server sr. programmer56.358.760.0
Sr. software engineer67.058.262.1
CIO (small-medium org.)68.189.476.1
CIO (large org.)102.3120.5128.8
Source: Source Edp