iSeries job market darkening despite one firm's findings

Several indicators point to a slowing market for iSeries pros, although a recent survey from Nate Viall and Associates (NVAA) says things are still pretty good. In its Mid-2001 iSeries (AS/400) & PC Salary Survey Report, NVAA found that the average salary for managers rose 7.9% to $80,600. And salaries for programmers are up 8.7%.

The slowing U.S. economy has taken its toll on the high-tech industry. The question is will iSeries professionals suffocate in a depressed dot-com sector and a wheezing old economy?

Iowa-based research and recruiting firm Nate Viall and Associates (NVAA) says no. It finds a healthy iSeries job market in its Mid-2001 iSeries (AS/400) & PC Salary Survey Report, which it released Aug. 1. It found that the average salary for managers rose 7.9% to $80,600. By title, most increases were 4% to 8%. The smallest increases were for technical and network support managers, up just 3.1% and 4.1%.

But many recruiters and hiring managers, as well as other salary surveys, contradict NVAA's findings. They say the IT job market has declined in the period covered by the report, June 2000 through June 2001. Indeed, to find work, iSeries professionals may have to accept less money than they earned last year.

Consultants at Manage Inc., an iSeries consulting firm that has offices in Seattle; Tacoma, Wash.; and Portland, Ore., have seen business fall off dramatically in the past 12 months.

"It's been really slow," said Manage Inc. president Dave Martin. "Our revenues from dot-coms especially are way down." The firm's clients in retail, medicine, manufacturing and transportation are also tightening their purse strings. "We haven't lost any (current contracts) to NT, Unix or other platforms. The trouble is that they're simply not spending any money at all at the moment."

That's forcing Manage Inc. to cut some of its own spending. None of the firm's 30 workers will get a raise this year, and starting salaries for new employees will remain static. But Manage has been able to retain most of its current workforce by offering employees the option to work at home "with a great deal of autonomy," Martin said.

Yet NVAA's mid-2001 report would have Manage Inc.'s workers in a minority of iSeries and IT professionals nationwide. Income for AS/400 directors rose 9% in the past 12 months, according to the report, more than any other job category. And NVAA finds just a slight decline in Seattle's IT salaries. "Only a handful of states had manager salaries lower than (they were in) mid-2000," said NVAA president Nate Viall. Technical staffers lost ground in just two states.

Contrary to NVAA's report, however, some of the hottest high-tech regions in the U.S. are turning ice-cold. On Aug. 5, The New York Times reported that 10,000 Dallas-area high-tech employees lost their jobs in the first half of 2001. And some Silicon Valley IT recruiters have begun to acknowledge a decline in their business. "HR managers are still looking for the best people they can get," said Greg Bernini, regional director for Silicon Valley at RHI Consulting. "They just might not be hiring as many of them."

Viall said he wouldn't be surprised if iSeries jobs declined in areas where dot-coms once ruled, such as Seattle and Silicon Valley, or in cities like Dallas, where telecom companies have been major employers. And iSeries professionals may face even greater risks in cities like Detroit, which lack a diversified industrial base. But Viall insists that his conclusions, which are based on NVAA's online survey results and interviews with IT department heads and HR executives, are sound. He instead blames the media for distorting the IT -- and thus iSeries -- job market.

"Too much media originates in the Bay Area, New York and Boston," Viall said. "It's not representative of the rest of the country." He said only a small number of IT consulting firms actually serve the dot-com sector. "Manufacturers may be cutting some of their production, but very few of the jobs lost are in MIS," he added.

Still, many companies appear to be saving money on IT and iSeries salaries this year. According to a study by Techies.com, IT salaries in the U.S. are down 6% since January 2001 (managers' income alone is down 14%). Search400's Interactive Salary Survey puts the year-to-date average salary for iSeries programmers at $52,826, compared with $63,300 for 2000. And iSeries technicians' salaries fell to $52,460 from $63,000 in 2000. Worst hit are those identifying themselves as iSeries analysts: Their salaries plummeted from an average of $126,000 in 2000 to $90,930 this year, according to the search400 survey.

But programmers, managers and analysts need not worry yet about finding a job as long as they don't price themselves out of the market. RHI's Bernini said any experienced iSeries professional having trouble finding work may be putting too high a price tag on his skills. "You can't blame people for having maximized their share of their business in previous years," he says. "But you can't be stubborn. You have to accept what the market can bear right now."

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About the author: Mark Baard is a freelance writer in Milton, Mass. You may contact him at mark@baard.com.

MORE INFORMATION ON THIS TOPIC:

Search400 Interactive Salary Survey: Take the survey and view the results

Career advice: Submit your questions to search400's career expert, Vic Sbrega

What do you think about these salary surveys? Does your salary reflect what they say? Post your comments in search400's Sound Off Discussion Forum.

Other career articles written by Mark Baard

Nate Viall and Associates: Learn more about its salary survey

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