It’s been a brutal period for Seattle’s job market. Numerous IT and life sciences companies began 2009 by laying off hundreds of employees, and the summer wasn’t much better as California-based Google laid off a number of contractors and full timers in its Washington offices.
In the last couple of months, however, recruiters have noticed a slight uptick in their job orders, giving some a sense that the market is stabilizing and companies are beginning to move forward with projects that had been put on hold.
"It’s actually picked up quite a bit," says David Goetz, a managing director for Manpower Professional’s northwest office. "It started to pick up in September and the uptick has continued. Before that, I don’t even want to talk about."
Goetz says the hiring process remains arduous as companies continue to be demanding about the types of job candidates they want to interview. The skills they seem to be focusing on include software development, project management, help desk, networking, Web 2.0 and architecture. It’s particularly noteworthy that businesses are beginning to put in job requirements for project managers, since many had put projects on hold for several months following Wall Street’s 2008 crash.
Many firms, says Goetz, slashed too much and now find themselves with understaffed IT departments. "I’ve also seen a large need for computer technicians and networking IT professionals," he says. "Not so much cutting-edge stuff but infrastructure. We’ve seen demand for back-office expertise, such as for ERP."
Staffing firms Robert Half Technology and Techstaff-CSR Tech Services also note an uptick in job orders. "We are finally getting job requirements in IT, which is great," says Mary Irvine, president and owner of Techstaff, based in Seattle. "I’m seeing requests for contract positions and contract-to-perm positions. Quite a few clients are saying they want the option to go directly to perm."
Most of the demand for IT workers is for projects that already had budget approval, Irvine says. Jobs in demand include helpdesk, developers, business analysts, and software engineers for search engine and information retrieval.
On Dice, listings for IT jobs declined 26 percent over the past year in the region, with 1,289 jobs posted in November 2009 compared to 1,735 posted in November 2008. Generally, the state’s job market seems to be hanging on to its funk, even if it isn’t declining as steeply as before. For most of 2009, the jobless rate ranged from 8.9 to 9.3 percent, said the Seattle Times, with the number of people looking for work stuck "in the low 300,000s."
Ester Frey, a recruiter at Robert Half Technology, says many of her clients’ job orders are for strategic positions, such as project managers and database administrators. That’s a marked difference from last fall, when wanted mostly developers. "It’s a minor shift," says Frey, "but it could get bigger."
She also sees an uptick in the need for development lifecycle jobs, like quality assurance. Furthermore, companies are starting to talk about Windows 7 implementation, which should drive demand for help desk support. Still, Frey’s clients continue to ask for job candidates with a multiple skill sets.
The job market has been so tough for some IT professionals, they’ve decided to retrain into new technical areas. Stephen Gentry, for example, has experience as a software engineer, working at places like Boeing and Bank of America. He’s gone back to school to become a Microsoft-certified systems engineer. "I’m hoping that’s more of a secure job because, frankly, programmers are being outsourced to India at an alarming rate," he says.
Joshua Bentley, a project manager who lives in Covington, Wash., was laid off in November from a contract position with a non-profit. He’s believes the job market is a little better compared to his previous period of unemployment earlier this year, but also notes that companies are placing high requirements on the job openings. "In the past, they wanted two years of active project management experience, but now they’re looking for a degree with three to five years of project management experience," says Bentley. "And it seems the compensation isn’t matching up with what they’re asking for."