The New Normal For The IBM i Job Market
July 7, 2014 Alex Woodie
The Great Recession may be over, but it has become clear that the job market has transitioned to a “new normal” that is defined by a lack of full-time jobs across many industries. In the IT industry, and specifically in the IBM i niche, employers still largely have the upper hand in setting terms, while employees are increasingly forced to make due with part-time, temporary, and contract work.
“We’re just not seeing the jobs like we used to see,” says Bob Langieri, the CEO of Excel Technical Services, a job placement company based in Orange County, California. “I’ve been noticing over the last one-and-a-half to two years that there’s not a lot openings out here. That’s the most disappointing point of all.”
Langieri has been working in the IBM midrange since the 1970s, and has seen his share of economic ups and downs. He deals mostly with the Southern California region, where he counts about 5,000 companies and organizations that use the IBM i server. The California job market used to be one of the best in the country for prospective coders and administrators, with good pay and a large number of companies needing their services. But that’s changed.
“The few jobs we are seeing want to do a contract to hire,” Langieri tells IT Jungle. “Part of it is there’s uncertainty. Do they want to add or augment staff permanently, or do they want something they can turn on and off like a spigot?”
When a company is looking for a full-time position, Langieri can usually fill it in within 24 to 48 hours. You have to move fast in this day and age to land a job with all the trimmings, like health insurance, dental, 401(k), vacations, which we used to take for granted. Given the large number of unemployed workers in many industries, employers have the upper hand, and they’re increasingly not afraid to use it.
The job situation is more tenuous in California, where the unemployment rate is currently 7.8 percent, than in other parts of the country; the nation as a whole currently has a 6.3 unemployment rate. In the city of Los Angeles, the unemployment rate is 8.5 percent, while up the road in San Francisco–which is currently undergoing a second dot-com boom on the back of the big data analytic industry–the unemployment rate is a paltry 4.4 percent, which may just reflect the number of data scientists in between gigs. (These are the stats before the jobs report came out last Friday from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.)
The new normal is not necessarily going to be good for workers who prefer health insurance and stability. As we reported in mid-June, 40 percent of the U.S. workforce, or about 60 million people, will be part of the itinerant workforce by 2020. That’s according to a 2010 study commissioned by Intuit. Currently, about 12 percent of the workforce, or 17 million people, are working as temps, freelancers, and independent contractors. This is a major shift.
Not everybody minds being a contract or temp worker. Langieri has one client who’s been on temp contracts for the past six years. He works 30 hours per week, and is quite content with the situation. On the other hand, Langieri also knows IBM i folks who have been out of work for years and can’t find new jobs that fit their skills.
“I can think of 10 to 12 people locally who have been out of work for as long as a year, some as long as three years,” he says. “These are people who made a career in this field and are managers. They’re just not finding jobs. Partly it’s because there are very few jobs, but it’s also companies are so nitpicky about who they are looking for. They’re looking for a needle in a haystack, and they might actually find it.”
Another reason companies are hesitating in hiring full-time IBM i workers is that they’re not certain they’ll be running the IBM i platform for much longer. Companies are migrating off their old OS/400 ERP systems to newer SAP, Oracle, or Microsoft packages that require different skill sets. “And they all seem to be just big mistakes,” Langieri says. “But I’m a bit prejudiced.”
IBM i types who are having trouble finding new jobs should diversify their skills, Langieri says. They should go to user groups and conferences, read books and online publications, do some Web training or on-site training, and see what is going on in the wider industry. Today’s job market is a rough and tumble, dog-eat-dog world that rewards the informed and punishes the ignorant.
RPG will never die, Langieri says. “But people need to update and modernize. They should sell their companies on continuing to invest in new technologies, new systems, and upgrading their OS. It always amazes what OS are they on–more than a handful out there are telling me they’re not even on IBM i 6.1. Their companies just can’t see investing in it.”
If a contract position is the only job offered to you, you should probably take it, if only to keep a big gap from emerging in your resume. Even if losing a previous position was not the fault of the person, companies take a jaded view of gaps in employment history, and view it as a sign of disability. Ditto with age. While it’s illegal to discriminate against somebody based on their age, it’s common practice for companies to hire younger people. They don’t have to pay them as much, typically, and the risk of losing them to retirement is less.
Then there’s the thorny matter of healthcare. The Affordable Care Act has helped to reduce full-time jobs because of the law’s requirement that companies provide healthcare coverage to employees who work more than 30 hours per week. On the plus side, the law (also called Obamacare) has made it easier for people to buy their own insurance plans on the open market. It’s clear that as more of us become independent contractors and freelancers we are going to be forced into the open market for health insurance.
As the next phase of Obamacare goes into law, we may see employment take another dip, Langieri predicts. “The transition is killing everybody,” he says. “It hasn’t even hit the companies yet. When it does, it’s another nail in the coffin for hiring. They’ll say ‘Now we really have to think twice about you. Let’s bring in a contract team or outsource a particular project rather than hiring more staff.'”