Shortage of workers tests tech sector

Hiring in the computer technology industry is up for 2007, creating a tight labor market that spells more competition and bigger salaries for qualified candidates.

“Any technical professional with two-plus years within their skill set should not find it even a remote possibility that it’s difficult to find a job,” staffing firm TEKsystems’ Director of Business Operations Adele Alvarez said. “Even the banking companies are doing mobile technologies.”

The first six months of 2007 saw high-tech industry employment nationally increased across all sectors at about the same rate as 2006 and at the same pace as the general economy, according to American Electronics Association Vice President Matthew Kazmierczak. The software sector of the industry is one of the strong points, he said, citing a report scheduled for release Wednesday.

Industry wages also grew faster than average private-sector wages throughout California in 2006, Kazmierczak said.

“The hot area right now has been the Web 2.0 companies, with a lot of people creating growth behind the scenes,” he said.

Other drivers are the trend toward software that allows users to make documents and perform other tasks online that were previously performed on a desktop, he said, as well as companies capitalizing on virtualization — software which, among other things, allows computers to be more energy-efficient and reduce their extraordinarily high energy usage.

Though local hiring data are not yet available, San Francisco and the Peninsula’s employers and recruiters are facing the same hiring challenges, which are a boon for job-seekers. The shortage is partly due to the limits the U.S. federal government places on visas for skilled workers, against which many Silicon Valley firms have lobbied, Kazmierczak said.

Xochi Birch, president and co-founder of San Francisco’s Bebo.com, a social networking Web site, said she has concerns whether she’ll be able to fill the eight engineering positions she needs this year. She saw many more résumés and a wider applicant pool two years ago, and now companies need to carefully consider salaries and benefits, she said.

“I think startups probably feel more pressure to start up pension plans than they have in a really long time,” Birch said.

Startups also face competition from the bigger players. Local companies such as Oracle Corp. (ORCL), Google Inc. (GOOG) and Sun Microsystems (JAVA) have dozens to hundreds of openings listed presently, and strive to offer strong pay and benefits, executives said.

Sun, for example, has seen successin hiring and retention in part because of its “Open Work” program, which allows large numbers of its workers the opportunity to work both from home, at its regular offices in the Peninsula and South Bay, or at “drop-in centers” in San Francisco and other parts of the Bay Area, program head Lynn Williamson said. Sun now markets the program to other firms, Williamson said.

Workers are also less willing to commute between Silicon Valley and San Francisco, Silicon Valley Staffing Group President Eugene Lupario said.

Economic engines

A look at changes in the industries that employ the workers of The City and the Peninsula

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Tuesday: Hospitality

Wednesday: Health care

Thursday: Finance

Today: Technology

kwilliamson@examiner.com

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