IT hiring slips even as tech spreads

The West Michigan tech industry isn’t hiring as fast as it once was, according to Paragon Recruiting.

Holland-based Paragon, which scouts talent for technology candidates, recently released the semi-annual Technology Employment Forecast it has put out for summer/fall and winter/spring every year since 2003.

Paragon polls senior IT managers in West Michigan, said Beth DeWilde, Paragon’s chief recruiting officer. About 100 business participants were polled, an “across the board” demographic that included the lakeshore, Grand Rapids, Muskegon and Kalamazoo, she said.

According to the report, for the first time since 2011 fewer than half of West Michigan companies polled planned to increase their information technology staffing during the next six months. About 51 percent said they planned no change to staffing. None said they planned cuts.

“I think there’s still high demand for IT, but a lot of companies are proceeding with a little more caution based on maybe the instability in the economic decisions going to be made with the presidential election,” she said. “Also, I think things have evened out over all, meaning a lot of companies have brought people on board and have hired people in place (who are) getting established.”

The report looked at manufacturing, education/government, professional services, computer consulting, health care and retail/wholesale sectors. None reported they planned to decrease IT staffing. The education/government sector saw the largest drop in expected hiring, from 53 percent for the first half of 2016 to 27 percent for this second half.

DeWilde blamed “election-year jitters.” But even with these numbers, she said, technology in West Michigan is still strong.

“I think there’s always going to be a high demand in the area for the technology profession. It think what happened here locally was there there’s a lot of people working for companies outside of the area, so those numbers don’t even come to play,” she said. “The availability of people in our area … there’s still a high demand. Even if professionals in our area are finding work more remotely, many are finding it and working for companies outside of Michigan. But there’s still a demand for people in Michigan.”

DeWilde said she isn’t seeing major pay changes in tech, but she noted that companies are looking for specific talent, which can make it more challenging to find people.

“As companies can be more receptive to flexible working arrangements, working remotely or periodically, then there’s going to be more candidates to choose from. But companies that expect their employees to be on site 100 percent of the time, then they’re not interested.”

One Grand Rapids tech firm looking to hire is Open Systems Technologies. The firm has about 14 jobs posted, said Mike Lomonaco, director of marketing.

“Our business continues to evolve and expand as we continue to grow in our different geographies, including Michigan, and as our business model shifts for the industry as well as our customers,” he said.

“The technology buyer and consumer at the business level is no longer just IT. It’s across the business. It’s marketing. HR. And they are all more mature in the ability to work across lines and organizations.”

Lomonaco said he hasn’t read the Paragon report but feels many measures of IT jobs are changing because business roles are changing.

“We’re getting to a point where every company is a technology company in some way, shape or form — which means a lot of their models and methodology they’ve created in their business are being challenged in ways they’ve never been challenged with before,” he said.

“The needs of the business (have) shifted, thus the roles that have been filled, the jobs that have been created for sustainable business, have shifted. It’s not known as a traditional IT role.”

Startup co-lab The Factory, located downtown at 38 W. Fulton St., Grand Rapids, is filled with technology companies that are hiring, said Tori Van Dragt, studio manager at Elevator Up, one of the first companies in the co-lab.

Elevator Up recently hired front-end developers, software developers, designers and product managers, she said, adding that other companies and competitors in the area were also hiring designers and developers, as have other groups in The Factory.

“A lot more companies are using tech products, so therefore the companies building them are having more business and needing to bring them on to fulfill that need. And companies are bringing IT in-house,” she said. “So, I guess on one hand, more companies will go to Elevator Up or a digital consultancy to build their own thing, and others are building up their own IT in-house.”

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