Wednesday, March 26, 2003

Rising unemployment affects even tech sector

By James McNair
The Cincinnati Enquirer

[photo] Teresa Yersky was laid off in February after 19 years at Convergys. Yersky now spends her days networking and investigating job leads.
(Michael E. Keating photo)
| ZOOM |
For all the promise of careers in technology, 10 percent of the jobs that these supposed occupations of the future provided two years ago no longer exist, a new report concludes.

According to the American Electronics Association, about 560,000 high-technology jobs disappeared between January 2001 and December 2002, leaving U.S. high-tech employment at about 5.1 million. Business failures, mergers and layoffs have reduced the number of high-tech workers to its lowest level in three years.

From coast to coast, the technology sector has been a virtual bloodbath. IBM in New York, WorldCom in Mississippi, Motorola in Illinois, Sun Microsystems in California - name any big tech company, and chances are it has had to downsize drastically to survive.

The same can be said for Greater Cincinnati, a minor-league city for technology companies but still a big employer of technology workers. The tech and Internet industry shakeouts have sent countless workers scurrying for job listings, networking gatherings and the scent of rumored openings.

"It's pretty bad," said Johnathan Holifield, executive director of CincyTechUSA, the technology arm of the Greater Cincinnati Chamber of Commerce. "I think it's consistent with the national picture."

Cintech Solutions, for example, has lowered its head count from a peak of 90 when it moved into a new headquarters in Blue Ash in December 2001 to 46, spokesman Troy Gross said. In February, it reported a 13 percent drop in six-month sales and a net loss of $1.9 million. On March 13, the maker of call-center software sought protection from creditors in U.S. Bankruptcy Court.

Gross confirmed that Cintech has been laying off workers.

"Our revenues have fallen, and certainly that leads to measures that have to be taken to control the cost structure," he said.

Cincom, a software development company based in Springdale, has cut payroll even though revenue has grown. At the end of 2001, Cincom had 789 employees worldwide and 326 in Springdale. Now it has 702 worldwide, 287 in Springdale.

Teresa Yersky had 19 years behind her at Convergys when the information technology employee was laid off Feb. 17. Convergys, the world's largest provider of billing and customer-response services to corporate clients, is in the process of eliminating 1,000 jobs worldwide. It let 99 go in Greater Cincinnati just before Christmas. That layoff and the February layoff that included Yersky affected all levels of employees.

Yersky calls herself an information management product support specialist. At Convergys, she said, she helped implement billing programs between Convergys and client firms. She doesn't dispute the company's reasons for downsizing, but with a new house to pay for, she wishes she hadn't been part of it.

"With the way the economy's going right now, Convergys and the big telephone companies have been taking big hits," she said. "If clients don't purchase anything, the revenue doesn't come and companies are forced to make reductions in the work force."

The prospects of returning to her chosen line of work appear dim. Everywhere Yersky turns, other unemployed information-technology people are knocking on the same doors, she said.

"Right now, the job market is flooded with IT people, so it's very hard to get into the door of another company to find a job," she lamented.

Rising unemployment isn't singling out technology industries. U.S. Rep. David Obey, D-Wis., the ranking member of the House Appropriations Committee, said the United States has lost 1.7 million jobs since President Bush took office, including almost 500,000 before the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Using Labor Department data, Obey also said Ohio has lost 118,000 jobs since January 2001.

All these depressing reports should not be taken as a deterrent to making a career in technology. The Ohio Department of Job and Family Services predicts that technology fields will lead the way in job growth until 2010.

Holifield, of CincyTechUSA, wholeheartedly subscribes to that outlook.

"Make no mistake about it, technology will only increase in speed and penetration in our lives, and there will be great opportunities for people in technology careers," he said.


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