IT workers largely shielded from economy's woes

IT jobs
Bill Asch, a project manager at the National Marrow Donor Program, had multiple job offers when he decided to accept his position with NMDP. He was photographed Friday, June 8, 2012, in the lobby of his Minneapolis office.
MPR Photo/Jennifer Simonson

While thousands of Minnesotans are still struggling with unemployment, some lucky workers are entertaining multiple job offers. That's the world of tech jobs these days, where demand for talent is so great that workers seem to be enjoying a sellers' market.

Bill Asch, an IT project manager, knows what that's like.

Asch, 40, sometimes finds himself in uncomfortable conversations at his children's soccer games in Shoreview. He has gone through a few layoffs in recent years. And when he chats with other parents, the layoffs come up in an awkward way.

"The parents say, 'Oh, you got laid off! I'm sorry!'" he says. "And you say 'Oh, don't worry about it. I really don't care.' And they kind of look at you like you're crazy, but you don't. You don't care, because you know you will have something."

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That something is a job offer. Or, in Asch's case, several. His periods of unemployment never last long. With each layoff so far, his phone has started to ring immediately. And the multiple job offers that roll in have allowed him to increase his salary.

This cycle recurred just a couple of months ago, when the team Asch was leading at a major company was chopped. For Asch, it was no big deal.

"Five days later I got an offer from the current employer, the National Marrow Donor Program, and I also had an offer from a consultancy," Asch says.

Asch chose the job he thought would provide the most meaningful work. He oversees a team that builds software to match marrow donors with people in need of a transplant.

At this point, Asch is pulling in a six-figure salary. Sure, he's worked in the IT world for 12 years and has an MBA. But he's not a special case. Many tech workers like him in Minnesota are scoring high-paid work quickly.

IT jobs
Paul DeBettignies of HireCast Consulting is a tech industry recruiter who says the demand for IT workers in the Twin Cities is high. DeBettignies was photographed Tuesday, June 5, 2012, at CoCo, a co-working and collaborative space in the Grain Exchange Building in downtown Minneapolis.
MPR Photo/Jennifer Simonson

"In my IT world, all I hear is we can't find folks fast enough," says Paul DeBettignies, an IT recruiter.

He spoke during an interview at CoCo, a grand, cavernous space that once housed the Minneapolis Grain Exchange. Now freelance workers and small firms, many of them technology-based, work alongside each other in the building.

DeBettignies says certain kinds of Web developers, programmers, IT project managers and business analysts based here at CoCo are in high demand these days. And it's DeBettignies' job to scout them out for employers struggling to fill open positions.

"Everything is going in the right direction if you're an IT person and not if you're a company trying to hire," he says.

New data from a major research group-- the Conference Board-- bear that out. The group says the number of online job postings for computer and mathematical science workers spiked nationally in June-- to the point where there were more than four times as many job vacancies as available workers.

In addition, the ManpowerGroup, a national job placement firm, ranks IT jobs as among the top three "hardest jobs to fill in 2012."

IT jobs
Jamie Thingelstad, an executive at 8thBridge, works in the collaborative office space CoCo on Tuesday, June 5, 2012, in downtown Minneapolis.
MPR Photo/Jennifer Simonson

Minnesota's head labor market analyst, Steve Hine, says it's bit harder to nail down what the supply/demand ratio looks like for tech jobs at the state level.

Hine says the data sources are different, for starters, and one of the key measures at the state level, the semi-annual job vacancy survey, is several months old. When Hine compares that outdated job vacancy information to unemployment claims for people who identify themselves as working in computer professions, the supply/demand ratio is closer to parity.

Still, Hine says both in Minnesota and nationally, job prospects for IT workers have improved markedly since the recession.

"The trends we've been observing would point towards a much tighter market -- perhaps even a shift from being a buyer's market to a sellers' market,"he said.

New Minnesota job vacancy numbers due out this summer will give a clearer picture of what's happening with IT jobs in Minnesota.

Given that Minnesota's overall labor market has been losing jobs lately, it could be that the tech world is living in its own happy little sphere.

Back at the collaborative workspace in Minneapolis, Jamie Thingelstad, the chief information and operating officer of a tech company called 8th Bridge, says he just hired several new Web developers in recent months.

And while Thingelstad sees a lot of momentum at companies like his, he knows that the tech sector is too small to prop up the recovery. And the rest of the economy still seems fragile to him.

"It feels a little odd sometimes because I do think in tech, there is this, for lack of a better world, bubble, that is different from other sectors," Thingelstad says.

And given that disconnect, Thingelstad says he wonders just how long the current tech boom can last.