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From Old-Line Companies, Hopes of New Tech Employment

By Carrie Johnson
Sunday, April 15, 2001; Page L01

It would be easy to wallow in bad economic news.

All the talk of layoff announcements and business shutdowns certainly raises doubts about where we're headed. But dark clouds don't entirely obscure the high-tech employment picture. Personnel experts say that in the Washington area, a small but sturdy patch of opportunity is blooming.

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The mainstays of local industry -- government contractors as well as small businesses that transformed themselves through technology -- have quietly been sending out feelers for potential workers.

These openings don't always appear in splashy ads or even on recruiters' radar screens, but people with their ears to the ground say there are jobs available for folks with the right skills.

It's happening at places such as Electronic Data Systems Corp., the Texas-based technology services shop that recently won a major government contract. A few months ago, EDS inked a $4.1 billion deal to build the Navy-Marine Corps intranet. To keep pace with demand from federal and private clients, the company seeks employees in such areas as systems and network engineering and project management, according to senior recruiter Debbie Rucker. EDS has about 250 vacancies in the D.C. region.

So, too, with SRA International Inc. in Fairfax. Ann Denison, director of human resources, says SRA has about 100 positions to fill. Many of them require not only techie skills, such as facility with the Java and C++ languages, but also security clearances for federal agencies.

"That's where with some of these little niches, we still have positions opening up," says Kerri Koss Morehart, director of recruiting at SRA. Morehart says security clearances for most jobs are not as difficult to come by as a person might expect.

These are businesses that job seekers bent on the latest craze might have overlooked when sexy dot-com opportunities were more plentiful, according to recruiters. Now the relative stability of these old-line firms is becoming a bit more attractive.

"It's a little out of what most of our applicants are used to looking at," says Paul Villella of the placement firm HireStrategy.com in Reston. "It's not pure tech."

Eventually, though, job seekers Villella meets decide, "um, um, okay."

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