Grads Finding More IT Jobs Available

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After several years of a sour IT job market, new college graduates in IT-related fields are having an easier time finding work -- and decent salaries -- these days.

This summer is showing the first increases in both new graduate hiring and salaries since 2001, according to Andrea Koncz, employment information manager for the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE).

But while hiring is looking up, some experts warn there may be a decline in the number of technical graduates in the years to come.

A recently released survey of 151 colleges and universities shows a 4.8 percent increase in starting salaries for computer science graduates as compared to this time last year, reports Koncz.

Computer science grads' salaries ring in at an average of $49,691, an increase of 4.8 percent from 2003. Many in that field commonly are taking jobs in software design and development.

In addition, new information science and systems grads are being offered an average starting salary of $43,050, an increase of 8.2 percent over last year. The most common job offers in that discipline are in technical and computer support.

NACE is a nonprofit organization that surveys colleges and universities throughout the country to determine which graduates are obtaining jobs, along with average starting salaries in various fields. It also tracks trends in the job market, as well as business' hiring practices.

''Our technical graduates (with combination computer science/engineering degrees) are doing quite well,'' says Elizabeth Reed, dean for undergraduate education and associate director of the Career Services and PreProfessional Advisory for the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Cambridge, Mass.

In a post-graduate survey this year, 64 percent of MIT's newest alums say they are reporting to a job after graduation; 31 percent are going to graduate school and the rest are undecided.

''It's almost as good as the old days when the economy was strong, but it's not quite as strong as the Boom Days,'' Reed says. She notes that many grads in IT-related fields are not finding jobs at dot-coms or start-ups, but they are finding work as systems analysts and high-level programmers.

Those numbers were quite different at the turn of the century when hundreds of dot-com companies went belly up, and layoffs and salary decreases were the norm. Post-graduate MIT surveys from that time showed that only 35 percent of the student body had found a job after graduation, and another 60 percent decided to go on to graduate school, Reed points out.

However, Reed has noticed that in the last year or so there have been fewer students majoring in computer science and IT-related fields.

''But there was an unprecedented high number (of IT students) a few years ago that was probably influenced by the strong market, so I think this may just be a natural trend in the field now that the economy is down,'' Reed said.

Dave Farrell, director of work-force strategy for the trade association Semiconductor Industry Association, based in San Jose, Calif., has tracked students' enrollment in IT-related academic disciplines for the Engineering Workforce Commission. He says that although overall national numbers of IT students appear to have climbed steadily since 1999, individual colleges and universities are reporting a decline in computer science/engineering students.

Fourteen schools, including MIT, Georgia Tech and Berkeley, show a 2 percent to 15 percent decrease in computer science/engineering students between 2003 and 2004, Farrell notes.

''This national change is not a good sign. It's a caution light flashing on our dashboard,'' adds Farrell, who says he wants to see more minorities and international students enter IT-related fields.

But for now, the market for IT grads is steady.

Hopkinton, Mass.-based EMC Corp., one of the world's largest providers of storage software, recently hired hundreds of IT graduates right out of school. ''Thats a clear sign they're bullish about the future,'' says Dan Walsh, chief executive officer of Darwin Partners, a Boston-based business and IT consulting firm.

Walsh adds that although the IT job market has picked up from when the dot-com bubble burst and the tech sector took a dive, things are still not what they used to be in the late 1990s.

''We're back to rocks and blocks,'' says Walsh, adding that in 2004 companies are again looking for solutions to their tech problems, but aren't ''doing technology for technology's sake.''

''People are watching their IT links more closely,'' says Walsh. ''They're not building the intergalactic, hand-held devices. The 'build it and it will come' belief formerly held by IT is not there.''

Walsh's advice to college students and new IT grads is to stick with it, but become an IT architect or program manager. Those more technical or leadership positions are typically not offshored as often as lower-level jobs, like programming and call-center techs.

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