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Young tech workers sought in tightening labor market

Mitchell Hartman Mar 5, 2015
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The job market is looking up, especially for skilled IT workers.

It can take more than one year to hire for some positions, like software engineer, in the hottest tech markets these days. People with skills developing mobile-apps and managing network and cloud-computing infrastructure are especially in demand right now, according to recruiters. Starting salaries this year for engineering graduates will average $63,000. Meanwhile, petroleum engineers will average $80,600, according to the National Association of Colleges and Employers. Salaries can easily reach six figures by mid-career. 

One of these workers, James Jones, arrived in Portland, Oregon, recently on a late-night flight from Chicago, where he lives. Jones was in Portland for meetings and training at Puppet Labs, the fast-growing technology company that hired him several months ago as a technical solutions engineer. Jones travels throughout the Midwest explaining, deploying and troubleshooting Puppet’s open-source-based automation software that helps manage huge data centers.

Jones is 27 years old, married with no children. He graduated from Northwestern University in 2009 with a degree in psychology and computer science and faced the Great Recession. “Definitely the economy had taken a downturn,” says Jones, “and it was a little bit rough to find jobs. It was scary there for a bit.”

But that only lasted several months. Then he landed at job at Hewlett-Packard, paying around $50,000 per year. His new job at Puppet Labs pays significantly better — though he wouldn’t say precisely how much, nor would the company. Salaries in the field average in the high-five to low-six figures.

“I was very satisfied” with the offer from Puppet Labs, Jones says. “They were willing to work with me and make sure I was happy. Because I’m kind of a hobbyist–I actually like managing servers and getting at little nerdy at home–working in the field I love, for a company I respect, was the bigger focus for me than money alone.”

Puppet Labs’ senior recruiter Art Amela says the 330-employee company – up from just 30 employees about five years ago – continues to expand aggressively at several U.S. locations, as well as in Northern Ireland and the Czech Republic. Amela says pay and benefits have to stay competitive with other fast-growing technology companies; stock options are a standard part of the compensation package, as well as a host of lifestyle amenities: a well-stocked cafeteria and coffee bar; board-games and old-style video-game consoles in the common area; and a room for employees to repair their bicycles.

And Amela says for top engineers with several years’ experience, poaching is now common. “We know they’re being contacted all the time,” he says, “and casually I’ll check with them about how many have contacted them this week. But if we keep our employees happy — and they are happy — it’s not going to be a threat.”

Still, says Dan Finnigan, CEO of the online recruitment website JobVite, employers large and small have to be prepared these days for a lot of turnover in their workforce.

“If you’re now in your twenties and college-educated, you’re likely to change jobs every three to four years,” says Finnigan. “People are always looking. They’re looking at work, using their smartphones. Companies need to be prepared to do whatever they can to minimize churn. But they need to assume that their business is like a college. They’re bringing in classes of people who will one day graduate and move on, and they need to continue to recruit new classes.”

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