Mar 06 2008

Gotta Have 'Em

Small businesses and IT recruiters identify the five skills they consider paramount in new tech hires.


Photo: Todd Winters
At Food Warming Equipment, IT Director Martin Szalay looks for network administration, problem-solving and troubleshooting skills in new hires.

Like many small and midsize companies, Food Warming Equipment has a range of IT needs and high expectations for support.


“We manufacture sheet-metal products and assemble them,” says Martin Szalay, IT director for the Crystal Lake, Ill., company. “We used to design products on cocktail napkins, but we’ve gone to 3-D modeling and a number of server-based applications. Technology helps our company outpace the market.”

At the top of Szalay’s hiring wish list are employees skilled in network administration, help-desk support, troubleshooting applications, and the administration and customization of the company’s SolidWorks product data management system. Additionally, the company continues to automate processes and centralize resources, which tasks its network heavily. In the past two years, for example, Szalay has expanded storage capacity with a new storage area network and storage array, improved backup processes and recovery with Symantec Backup Exec, and sped application performance by moving from a patchy 10/100 local area network to a full Gigabit Ethernet.

“The most important thing to us is being an IT generalist with a passion for technology,” explains Szalay. “I need someone who can wear lots of hats. Whoever pulls that straw has to deal with the problem, whether it’s the ERP or a networked camera.” Szalay recently brought on several IT staffers to provide additional support, particularly for networking, Microsoft Windows administration and troubleshooting.

Food Warming Equipment is hardly unique when it comes to relying on IT talent to accelerate business growth, according to tech recruiters. Faced with an uncertain economy and the pressures of a global marketplace, small and midsize companies require more from job candidates than ever before — including business knowledge and specific industry expertise, along with polished communications and interpersonal skills.

In a tightening job market, companies no longer will take a chance on a candidate who meets most — but not all — of their requirements. SMBs are more selective than large companies because they are less able to absorb the cost of bad hires, says Kathryn Davis Wolfe, CEO of HDB, an IT recruiting firm in St. Louis.

“If smaller companies don’t get the skills and experience they want, or if the person doesn’t fit the corporate culture, they pay a huge price in productivity and company morale, so they wait for the perfect candidate,” says Wolfe.

IT Hiring Trends: What are the top three most-needed IT skills at your company in 2008?

1. Network administration
2. IT help-desk support
3. Firewall and networking security

Source: CDW poll of 537 BizTech readers

Off the List, but Not Forgotten

Perhaps surprisingly, security is missing from the list of most-in-demand IT job skills identified by recruiters. Wolfe mentioned it as an evergreen, not an emerging skill.

The omission is no indication that security has declined in the priorities of companies, says John Estes, vice president at Robert Half Technology in Menlo Park, Calif.

“We don’t get orders for security specialists,” he says. “When companies want to hire, say, a networking engineer, security is part of the overall skills package. Companies are always talking about protecting their networks and their data. It’s just so important, employers expect it from every hire.”

Merry Mix

Small and midsize companies often look for an array of support skills in a single candidate. “Our needs run from the basic to the highly specialized, and because we’re a small company we need to be creative about filling them,” says Dave Robinson, CEO of New England Peptide. The Gardner, Mass., company manufactures peptides and antibody products for pharmaceutical organizations worldwide.

“We have to have someone with a really strong grasp of Microsoft Office and other basic business tools,” he says. “And we have to have someone to manage our networks, to keep our data secure, to optimize the network and to have the skills for backup and recovery.”


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