In Search Of Talent

After years of weakness, there's reason to be hopeful about tech employment again. The clues? Selective raises, talent raids, and headhunters.
Probst finds it tough to find enough people with IT skills and health-care experience in Utah and Idaho, where Intermountain is located, so he tends to find tech talent and train them about health care. The story is similar in once tech-battered New England. "In the post-dot-com frenzy, I'd post a request for a Java or Oracle programmer, and I'd get 200 resumés in a day," says John Halamka, CIO of CareGroup Health System and Harvard Medical School. "Now, it's much harder and takes longer." Wireless engineers are difficult to find, and CareGroup also is looking for networking and storage pros.

A shortage of IT people in upstate New York is forcing Destiny USA CIO Jeff Cohen to offer relocation packages to new hires coming from New York City and Salt Lake City. The company is building a multibillion-dollar megamall in Syracuse, and the project includes a tech command center supporting 3-D modeling and digital-simulation systems used for design and construction. Cohen is looking to add top-level voice-over-IP and networking specialists, as well as .Net developers, to his 10-person staff, but they've been tough to find locally.

Halamka and other CIOs say the number of recruiter calls coming their way has jumped. Pulte Homes' Batt sees people who had been afraid to make job moves a few years ago--and companies that resisted making personnel changes--getting bolder. Among his latest hires is Wayne Haughey, director of engineering and application development, whom he lured to the Michigan company from region's auto industry.

Recruiters are getting called in more often to help find that top-flight CIO, VP of IT, or VP of engineering, says Dora Vell, who launched Vell Associates Inc., an executive-recruitment firm, this spring after seven years as a technology partner with Heidrick & Struggle. "People are afraid to say it," but there's a resurgence in demand for senior IT executives, Vell says. "It feels like the Internet boom." But the trend is new enough that she worries about jinxing it.

Not many IT pros will mistake today's job market for the Internet boom. They know how fleeting "hot" technical skills can be, the time and money it takes to stay up to date, and the outsourcing threat that looms. Far from a get-rich-quick mentality, the people working in IT have gutted out a harrowing shakeout that's not over yet. Will the improving IT employment outlook continue, or is it merely an uptick before another slide? It's not clear. But for a change, there are glimmers of good news.

-- With Tony Kontzer and Eric Chabrow

Illustration by Superstock

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