High tech job growth measured as sector weighs hiring horizon
By Marilyn Bowden
Despite market fluctuations during the past 18 months, a longer view of the high-tech industry in Miami-Dade shows positive job growth, said industry observers - though many companies are rethinking hiring policies.
In the past four years, said Holly E. Wiedman, executive vice president of business development at the Beacon Council, high-tech jobs in Miami-Dade have jumped 214%.
The Beacon Council, the county's economic development agency, tracks the information technology and telecommunications sector of the economy under these six classifications:
nBusiness services, including software development and computer consulting;
nMeasuring and controlling instrumentation, mainly for the biomedical industry;
nIndustrial or commercial high-tech machinery and computers.
"In 1996, Miami-Dade showed 1,247 companies with a total employment of 16,656," Ms. Wiedman said. "Using the same Dun & Bradstreet marketplace analysis for 2001, we now have 2,353 businesses with a total employment of 35,677.
"There have been ups and downs throughout those different years," she said. "But what we're seeing is, we are growing high-tech jobs. Being ahead by 19,021 jobs is a high note in the diversification of our economy."
Conditions specific to the local market have protected it from the dot-com ruination experienced in other areas, she said. Jobs continue to be added through expansion as well as new companies coming to the area.
"Miami-Dade is not affected by major layoffs within huge information technology companies," she said, "such as those being experienced in Silicon Valley, New York, Boston and Austin. We are not seeing cuts of 500-2,000 employees.
"Instead, companies that have come here in the past two to three years have specifically targeted Latin America and North America. What we're seeing is that they're starting out small and growing into the market piece by piece."
In addition, Ms. Wiedman said, regional promotion has given South Florida branding recognition in the industry - a perception fostered not only by the growth of the Latin American market but also by the infrastructure provided by the NAP of the Americas, BellSouth and AT&T.
The growing pains of the past few years have had a direct impact on employment policies in the international high tech market, said Rodrigo Ocampo, vice president & managing director for Latin America at AT Kearney, an executive search firm.
"We have seen a cycle that normally takes 10-15 years compressed to two years because of increased flows of communication and international capital," he said. "Eighteen to 24 months ago, the demand for staffing in high-tech leadership positions was staggering. There was a lot of financial capital being thrown at the sector.
"Publicly traded companies had to respond to expectations of growth and were out there looking to hire at a fast rate. Even startups were getting access to a lot of money."
With the downturn of the market, however, Mr. Ocampo said, the influx of capital into the industry has slowed down considerably, and in some cases reversed.
"As a result," he said, "the demand for human capital has also slowed down or reversed."
But appearances may be deceiving, he said.
"Some companies announcing many layoffs," he said, "have retained our services to help them find experienced talent. With the pendulum swinging away, seniority at the helm becomes even more critical."
While a good education and a few years of experience used to be enough to qualify prospective employees for managerial positions, Mr. Ocampo said, 15 to 20 years of managerial experience is now required.
"Before, older employees were viewed as a drag on creativity," he said. "Many of these companies were led by people who lacked real-world experience.
"Now they're looking for someone at least 40 years old who isn't going to jump at the first opportunity but will negotiate well on the company's behalf. They want experience and financial acumen, not just sales and marketing cheerleaders.
"People who were hired as CFOs are now becoming CEOs because they were able to identify deals or sometimes to show that the emperor had no clothes, thereby earning the gratitude of investors."
One such CFO was able to save his company $150 million in the past 15 months, Mr. Ocampo said.
"A lot of credibility was lost when leadership was in very inexperienced hands," he said. "The survivors learned a lesson. At the end of the day, experience is one of most important variables."