Volume 19, Number 27 -- July 26, 2010

Wisconsin i Job Market Looking Gouda

Published: July 26, 2010

by Dan Burger

There's no end to Wisconsin cheese jokes. Sorry to perpetuate the stereotype, but those folks who proudly wear blocks of cheese on their heads at televised sporting events are chiefly responsible. In California, we're known for fruits and nuts. In Wisconsin, it's cheese.

Last week in The Four Hundred, I wrote about a few regional opinions that the IT job market was gaining momentum. This week the job outlook comes from Nick Simmons, an account executive at TEK Systems, one of the leading technology staffing and servicing companies in the United States. Simmons works from an office in Madison, Wisconsin.

TEK Systems has a current payroll of about 23,000 contractors working jobs in approximately 90 markets nationwide. It put more than 50,000 people to work in 2009--counting contract employment, contract to hire, and full-time placements. More than 80 percent of TEK placements work contract jobs.

Simmons' experience includes working with companies that use the IBM i platform extensively. "We (TEK Systems) don't see as much iSeries business as we see other business, but it is a skill set that we see consistently in this office," he says.

"I still see a lot of organizations that got involved with the System/36, System/38, and AS/400 years ago that are still utilizing it," Simmons continues. "It's a stable platform and companies have continually done development on it. We see a steady amount of business from those companies year in and year out. Peaks and valleys occur, but the human resource requirements needed over the years has remained pretty steady."

One IBM midrange company Simmons has worked with made the decision to move off the platform. And here's how that went . . .

"They were going to outsource their next-gen platform project. But after about a year, they realized the replacement platform project was becoming more and more expensive to complete and they were not going to have the stability the AS/400 had. Ultimately they scraped their plans and went back to the AS/400," Simmons recalls.

He follows that up with the assessment that the platform is not showing any growth in popularity, but he doesn't see it disappearing anytime soon.

In terms of the general IT job market, Simmons says companies are definitely doing more hiring. There has been an uptick in companies coming to TEK with employee requirements and desired placements.

However, companies aren't interested in hiring a person who is simply a heads-down developer. Whether that person has the skill set is not the determining factor. Having the technical skills are a given. The differentiation, Simmons points out, is how a person fits into an organization's culture. He calls those the soft skills: interpersonal communication skills, professionalism, a sense of commitment demonstrated over a career, such as staying on top of current trends. You can count on these things being explored in job interviews, he says.

Simmons admits to being biased toward contract workers, because that's what TEK Systems is known for providing. Not surprisingly, he can talk about the benefits contract work provides for employees.

"In order to stay on top of technology and trends in the market, it may be advantageous to move to new jobs every year or 18 months," he says. "Sometimes an employee can get into companies that are not committed to improving technology. They can get stuck in a role that causes them to lose marketability. This has happened to guys on the Microsoft side who learned Visual Basic and got stuck in jobs that did not lead to .NET. When they had to look for jobs without .NET experience, it cost them. With contract jobs, you get to pick your project and the role you play on the project and the technologies you'll be working on. When you come out of the project, you've used your current skill sets and you've picked up new skills and experiences. You come out a little more marketable."

Simmons also takes on the myth that a permanent job is more stable than a contract job.

"That's not necessarily true," he says. "The average duration that an IT person spends on a job is not that long these days. When you factor in layoffs, sometimes contract employees stick around longer than full-time employees."

Contract work can be brief, but it can extend longer than you might assume. Some workers on the TEK payroll have been on jobs that lasted years. The average contract length is about 45 weeks.


Increase in IT Jobs Led by Contract Worker Demands

IT Salaries Stop Falling, Hiring Picking Up, Says Janco

Another Indicator Says the IT Job Market Is Improving

Companies Look to Add Jobs in 2010, Inside IT and Out

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Editor: Timothy Prickett Morgan
Contributing Editors: Dan Burger, Joe Hertvik, Brian Kelly, Shannon O'Donnell,
Mary Lou Roberts, Victor Rozek, Kevin Vandever, Hesh Wiener, Alex Woodie
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