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Recovery slow for iSeries job market

Economists say the recession is over, but not all iSeries professionals agree. For many, raises are slim if nonexistent, and the number of iSeries jobs available remains low. There is a light at the end of the tunnel, however.

Alan Greenspan, the U.S. Federal Reserve chairman, may say the recession is over, but iSeries 400 workers in some parts of the country aren't so sure.

Despite signs since February of an economic recovery, more than a third of iSeries professionals surveyed by Search400 said their raises have been put on hold. Another 40% of the 504 people surveyed said their last raise was less than 5%.

Some states are bouncing back faster than others, and it's no surprise iSeries professionals are reporting an uneven job market across the nation.

"Management is telling us we're lucky to even have a job," said an iSeries programmer/analyst who works for Islandia, N.Y.-based Computer Associates International Inc.

The programmer/analyst, who works in Illinois, sees "few opportunities for AS/400 professionals in the Midwest at the moment."

In a Webcast to employees last week, CA chief Sanjay Kumar promised to lift his company's freeze on salary increases. But the programmer/analyst, whose salary grew just 2% in 2001, doubts this year's raises will amount to very much.

"Meanwhile, [CA management] is demanding that we acquire new skills and travel anywhere at anytime," the programmer/analyst said.

In the Southeast, even government jobs, which typically rank at the bottom of the iSeries compensation barrel, are gaining a new luster. The Nashville metropolitan government, for example, is making its IT salaries more competitive with those in the private sector.

"I definitely feel lucky right now," said Colette Culver, who works as the city's sole RPG programmer. In July the city of Nashville reassessed the wage scale in its IT department, and Culver's salary jumped 6% to $57,000.

Culver expects her salary this year -- with a 3% annual raise, plus a merit increase -- to reach $60,000.

Many others in the Southeast, however, have fared much worse than Culver. Most of the independent iSeries contractors Culver knows in Tennessee are still looking for work.

"Many companies here have migrated away from the AS/400, which is a little scary," Culver said.

Other iSeries shops, according to Culver, have simply gone out of business.

But the outlook for iSeries professionals elsewhere is less gloomy.

"Everybody I know is working," said Larry Ketzes, an AS/400 systems administrator for a large insurance company near Philadelphia. "There has just been less flexibility to jump around from one position to the next."

But Ketzes is also safeguarding his IT career by expanding his expertise into other areas.

"I'm learning as much as I can about security, Lotus Domino and IBM WebSphere," Ketzes said. "You can't predict which products are going to prevail in the future."

Ketzes is heading up the deployment of IBM's Backup Media and Recovery application for his company's iSeries servers.

"I'm also trying to take on as much project-oriented work as possible," he said.

That experience may help Ketzes make his next jump, once more jobs open up in the Atlantic states.

Pundits expect the iSeries job market will grow again with the U.S. economy, even if unemployment figures rise again.

"The AS/400 job market is not directly related to broad-based unemployment figures," said Nate Viall, principal at Nate Viall and Associates, an iSeries research and recruiting firm based in Des Moines, Iowa. "In fact, they can often run inversely to unemployment."

And things are looking up, even in Nashville. Culver, the RPG programmer who works for the city government, said some contract job opportunities have started to pop up. But she doesn't plan on quitting her job anytime soon.

"It took me six months to find this job," Culver said. "And that was after going through many recruiters."

Culver eventually found her current job through her own contacts within the iSeries community.

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About the author: Mark Baard is a freelance writer in Milton, Mass.

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