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Local iTech hiring may be resurgent, but too soon to call
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Hiring in the Nashville information-technology community might be thawing-out, but no one really knows, for sure.

A recent IT-hiring report from Nashville Technology Council was hastily interpreted by some as signaling further decline in the sector's momentum.

In fact, NTC President Tod Fetherling and other local Tech execs told VNC in the wake of fhe NTC report that there are signs of a potentially strong upswing.

Fetherling (at right) said, "Most of the [IT] staffing firms tell us that we are up in jobs posted from November-December," a period which Fetherling said is widely regarded as the "low point" in recent local IT hiring.

On March 23, NTC said in its inaugural quarterly report that its staff had found 420 IT job openings in the market, based on a two-week sampling of online job-opening and recruitment sites.

Hearing the news, some thought that number meant a precipitous drop from the 642 openings NTC reported in Spring 2009 – or, ostensibly a 52 percent drop.

In reality, it is not until May 7 – during NTC's annual Technology! Nashville conference – that NTC plans to release data comparable with 2009 results.

Meanwhile, both Fetherling and other executives contacted by VNC invariably reported rising demand for tech services.

Brian Johnston (left) of Johnston Healthcare Search not only says the healthcare sector is booming; but, also noted that some companies have quietly hired key tech executives, but are keeping both the recruitment effort and the new hire off the radar, as much as possible.

Why? Johnston said it's because of an "growing wave of merger and acquisition activity." He explained, "Some of these companies anticipate upgrading talent or platform changes that are key to their highly competitive positions. We should expect to see more opportunities as some of these early stage companies grow or acquire to reach a mass that dictates hiring more staff."

One firm often associated with talk of M&A is Passport Health Communications, where the ranks have been steadily growing. Passport's HR Business Partner Heather Ullig, PHR, told VNC, in part, “Passport currently has a number of jobs open and has hired 14 employees since January 1, 12 of which were health care IT linked." Passport has nearly 300 employees overall, she said.

Job-seekers sometimes know more than recruiters. Jason Childs (at left), president of Brentwood-based Onora Group, told VNC that not only had his company not experienced the customary Q-1 slowdown, but has started to see more still-employed candidates entering the job market. Said Childs, "Many of them are feeling more comfortable to conduct a search now that more opportunities appear to be out there and the economy appears to be recovering some. This is also good news for unemployed IT candidates since more positions should be opening up because employed IT professionals are moving around a little bit more than they have in the past couple of years.

Apart from data, "gut feelings" can be telling, also.  Atiba CIO and VP-Strategy Scott Smith (below right) told VNC, "There is some thawing, as evidenced by my getting an open position announcement" from a firm he declined to name. He added, "And it sounded and felt 'normal', if that makes any sense."

NTC data, plus comments obtained from local Tech execs indicate the specialties most in demand include .Net Developer, Java, SQL and MySQL, Business Intelligence, Project Management, Analysts, Network Engineers, and a host of functions lumped under programming and data warehousing.

Although definitions of jobs and workforce estimates are difficult to come by, Fetherling told VNC this morning that his review of a number of analyses has led him to believe there are "about 25,000 traditional Information Technology Workers in the MSA. The number is much higher if you look at all of the ancillary IT services (design and project management) and within the industry verticals (healthcare, transactional, publishing, music, etc.)."

Mixed signals regarding local IT hiring outlook have resulted from economic uncertainty, as well as from NTC's shift from producing one employment "snapshot" per year, to issuing one snapshot per quarter.

Fetherling told VNC that, heretofore, the snapshot NTC previously provided once each year has represented job openings discovered during the same two-week period of the second quarter – April, May, June. He said that 2nd-Quarter hiring often outpaces first-quarter hiring.

Fetherling said this morning that while the NTC hiring report is certainly "not a census" and is nonscientific, it nonetheless provides "an interesting datapoint."

Even though neither NTC nor any other source provides data on the number of actual – non-advertised, as well as advertised – IT job openings there are locally, Fetherling told VNC NTC believes all signs indicate "We need to focus on growing more tech grads..., get more high schools students involved in technology, need to organically grow the workforce through retraining efforts, continue to recruit development talent...to Nashville, and continue to attract and retain tech companies in the region."

Going forward, because the Tech sector is continually evolving, job-openings captured in future reports will change, periodically.

For example, Fetherling acknowledged that, as pointed out by a number of VNC readers, NTC's hiring report has for some time effectively ignored or underrepresented some "open-source" skills in growing demand (including for the cognoscenti: PHP, Ruby, Python and others).

In addition, Joan DuNard (left), a formerly Nashville-based partner in Extreme Solutions, based in Washington State, told VNC she thinks NTC should begin to explore incorporating data from social networks into its calculations. DuNard said she believes "social networks are leading the pack in locating talent and hiring trends..." She added that trolling the social media allow recruitment firms to "hear things such as companies laying off major talent sooner, and thus can grab that talent before they post a resume on Dice or Monster..."

NTC's snapshot reporting was started in 2001 by former NTC President David Condra (Dalcon Communications Systems) in the wake of the Dot-com market burst, and has subsequently reflected the economic battering the economy took in the form of the 2001 terrorist attacks and the recent Great Recession.

Among the nine previous annual snapshots, the nadir was in 2003, when only 212 advertised openings were noted. Nearly six times that many openings – 1,254 – were spotted in 2007.

Prior to the March quarterly report, NTC had issue one snapshot report each year, for nine consecutive years. Fetherling joined NTC as president-CEO 18 months ago.

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Tags: .Net, Atiba Software, Brian Johnston, data warehousing, education, employment, engineering, Extreme Solutions, information technology, Jason Childs, Java, Joan DuNard, MySQL, Nashville Technology Council, networks, Onora Group, Open Source, Passport Health Communications, Scott Smith, software, software development, SQL, Tod Fetherling, workforce

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