Is There A Glut Of Technology Jobs For Young People?
Do I wish I could interest my 15-year-old son in technology data analytics? Or in the architecture of cloud-based information technology systems? Apparently if he were to delve into either of those fields, the world would be his oyster, career-wise. At least that is what Jeanne Beliveau-Dunn, vice president and general manager of Learning@Cisco, would have me believe. Learning@Cisco is a division at the giant San Jose-based technology company that coordinates skills training and recruitment at Cisco and at learning institutions that feed it and its partners. Dunn’s office got in touch with me and encouraged me to write a piece about the surfeit of technology jobs available to young people.
As I write this, there are some 2 million people either working in fields related to information technology or being fed into training centers, according to Beliveau-Dunn’s office. To clarify, she’s talking about network information technology jobs, like maintaining and designing systems, as opposed to computer programming work. Cisco is committed to feeding this jobs beast, so that it can hire enough people in-house, and so that its many partners around the globe can be fully staffed with highly trained workers. Beliveau-Dunn’s office pointed me to one analysis of Bureau of Labor Statistics numbers, which says the information technology sector in the U.S. added 18,200 jobs in July, more than it has in any other month since 2008. She says the trend will only escalate.
Dunn makes a compelling case about the numbers of jobs in this field that are open right now, and the dire need for young people to get trained for IT careers. She predicts that at least 1 million workers will be hired over the next six years in Cisco-related networking jobs. The other day I wrote about whether there is a skills gap between the hundreds of thousands of open manufacturing jobs and the millions of unemployed job-seekers. My conclusion, after reading widely on the subject: Yes and no. There are plenty of workers who crave employment, but may not have the precise skills that employers want. Because of the pressure exerted by the lagging economy, employers are extremely choosy and slow to hire. They are also reluctant to fund training programs that could prepare workers for specific jobs. It’s a vicious cycle that keeps unemployment high and jobs open longer than they would be if the economy were firing on all cylinders.
In technology, the story is somewhat different, according to Beliveau-Dunn, though I do see some similarities. “Absolutely, there is a skills gap in I.T.,” she says. “It’s where the jobs will be in the future.” But Cisco and its partners aren’t going to hire workers and train them on the job. Rather, they want highly skilled employees ready to hit the ground running. To create this workforce, Cisco pushes a variety of programs, from online courses to classes at institutions like San Jose State University and Wichita State University. Cisco and its partners want workers to get the training before they apply.
As an example, to earn the most popular Cisco certification, called Cisco Certified Network Associate, or CCNA, a worker must take an exam, most likely administered by Pearson, the British-based publishing and education company. The test has two parts, one lasting 90 minutes and costing $150 and another running 75 minutes and also costing $150. The best case scenario is that the student has enough course work and study under their belt, and they can pass on the first go-round and be eligible for a slew of job postings that require the certification. If they aren’t prepared for the exam, they can take a course from an outfit like Global Knowledge, which offers a five-day CCNA “boot camp” course for $3,595, including an exam voucher.
The catch comes with job openings that require not only a certification but several years of experience. How does a young person go about logging the work time necessary to be hired? I checked in with Rand Blazer, president of Apex Systems, a division of staffing firm On Assignment. Apex is the third largest I.T. staffing firm in the country. Blazer says Apex does not recruit out of college. Rather, his firm hires people who have already been working for several years. Right now, Blazer says, the greatest demand from employers is in mobile applications and something called E.H.R., which stands for Electronic Health Records, because of the massive push to digitize medical records. “Those two are the hottest fields,” he says. Beyond those areas, Blazer says there is a demand for people who understand finance or supply chain logistics, who can build and supervise complex systems. Right now, Blazer says Apex has some 40,000 jobs it’s trying to fill in these higher-level areas. Other staffing firms are also working on the commissions, so he estimates the total job number at more like 20,000. That’s an impressive number of openings, but none are for entry-level workers.
At Ministry Health Care, a health maintenance organization in northern Wisconsin, I talked to head of recruiting Mike Schmidt. Of the 17 information technology jobs open at the company right now, Schmidt says ten are for entry-level positions, mostly for computer help desk support. Schmidt predicts that he will get some 50 applicants for each entry- or mid-level job and he’ll fill the positions within two or three weeks. Those jobs don’t pay all that well. The mid-level jobs, requiring three years of experience, pay $60,000-$70,000. Where Schmidt has trouble finding qualified applicants: at the senior level, that requires applicants who have five years of experience or more. These workers need to have broad experience in network design and enough familiarity with health care that they can direct systems design projects. Sometimes those jobs sit empty for six months to a year, he says.
I checked in with two other people who are hiring young I.T. workers. At SWC Technology Partners in Oak Brook, Ill., President Bob Knott says, “there’s a shortage of skilled workers across the board, not only at the entry level but at the experienced level.” SWC is an IT services company, handling projects like network upgrades for a range of companies. SWC also works as an outsourcer, managing IT needs for companies on an ongoing basis. Right now, Knott says he has seven open positions, including three entry level jobs. AT SWC, he says, low-level help desk jobs start at around $50,000. To get those jobs, candidates need to be well versed in the practical skills the jobs demand. SWC recruiters tend to go to campus job fairs searching for candidates, as opposed to posting on job boards. This spring, SWC hired 46 people, including seven who had just graduated from school. From Knott’s perspective, the best candidates come from schools like DePaul or University of Illinois at Chicago, that teach up-to-date skills.
Penny Clancy, vice president of human resources at Sentinel Technologies, a technology consulting and implementation company based in Downers Grove, Ill., agrees that it’s tough to find qualified workers. She has two open entry-level positions right now, paying between $35,000 and $45,000. But her toughest hiring challenge is at the more senior level, where workers have eight to ten years of experience.
What’s challenging for both workers and hiring managers: companies’ technology needs are changing fast, and workers aren’t necessarily getting qualified in the areas most in demand. Clancy advises students to try to work with a school that has a partnership with Cisco, like Northern Illinois University or College of DuPage. Two other schools in the Chicago area where Sentinel recruits: Robert Morris University and DeVry. At those schools, Sentinel runs a program where undergraduates are paired for nine months with executive mentors, including network specialists and solution architects. Most of the students who go through the mentorship program get jobs, says Clancy.
My conclusion, after canvassing a half dozen employers who are hiring network I.T. workers: A student who enrolls in a Cisco-linked program in college will likely find a path to employment. If they stick with the career, it can be lucrative. According to Beliveau-Dunn, top people in I.T. networking make a quarter of a million dollars. But the field is changing so fast, it’s a challenge to know what to focus on as an undergraduate. Says Penny Clancy at Sentinel: “Getting a bachelor’s degree takes four or five years. Some of the leading technologies were not even leading technologies five years ago.” Internships are a great way to get a sense of the skills that are in demand, as is networking with alumni who are working in IT careers. It’s also possible to get a degree in liberal arts and pursue I.T. courses at the same time. There is no question that I.T. networking is a growing field.
This article, “Is There A Glut Of Technology Jobs For Young People?” originally appeared at Forbes.com.