One Company's Loss Is Another's Gain

P> While the first word most people think of in the telecommunications employment world today is "layoff," there are other trends at work, too.

As the Washington, D.C., area becomes a hub for not only traditional phone companies but also satellite communications and Internet corporations, the competition is getting stiffer for businesses to find good employees.

One of the biggest trends is long distance companies hiring people with local service experience and vice versa, now that the Telecommunications Act of 1996 allows them to go into each others' business. "What you're seeing is a convergence of information science," said Leslie Farrell, publisher of Azle, Texas-based Telephone Works Bi-Weekly, an employment guide for the telecommunications industry.

As the lines blur between long distance, local service, Internet, cellular and paging, so do the skills employers seek. Call it the revolving door of communications in the Washington area. A person might work for Bell Atlantic, then transfer to PSINet, then move to one of the many telecom associations in the area. America Online, Vienna, Va., is notorious for snatching skilled communications workers: It has increased its employees from 500 to 4,000 in the past two years, and is moving to Sterling, Va., in part because it has outgrown its Vienna office.

"At the outset of Web-mania, telephone companies were slow to compete against Internet service providers," said David Ticoll, president of the Alliance for Converging Technologies, Toronto. "Many have realized this mistake and are now marching double-time to sell Internet access, as well as to develop Internet products and services." That means hiring people.

"It's getting harder and harder to get good, new people in this town," said Robert Reinish, a recruiter at LCI International, McLean, Va. "There aren't enough people to fill positions."

Particularly attractive skills now include systems administration, UNIX programming, software design and testing, and project management for new areas such as personal communications services, said Farrell.

To compete against other companies, Reinish said he conducts five or six job interviews a week to see what kind of talent is out there. He hires someone every two months.

The rise of the Internet access and content providers in the Washington area in the past year has especially drained the pool of qualified applicants, Reinish said.

Telecom companies are also moving more and more into the Internet business, not only offering access or content but using it to sell telecom services. According to a recent survey by the Alliance for Converging Technologies, 60 percent of telecom executives believe their companies will rely on on-line services to sell products and services. Even more -- 65 percent -- said they will use on-line services to promote and advertise their services by the end of 1997. Only 34 percent of executives in other industries, by contrast, said they would sell services on-line. "Telecommunications clearly is the torch bearer in on-line commerce," said Ticoll.

As for the layoffs, many in the telecom industry say that the 40,000 people that AT&T said it would lay off as a result of its split into three separate companies was an exaggeration. "What [newspaper] stories don't follow up on is that AT&T will rehire a lot of those people," said Reinish.

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