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For Techies, Some Hope Amid Gloom

For example, Templin told a recruiters group last week, telecommunications companies in the region have been devastated by the downturn, but professional service and consulting firms continue to hire. The jobless rate here is about half that in Silicon Valley and well below the national jobless rate of 6 percent, which was announced by the Labor Department on Friday.

"Our region is going to pull out of the recession faster and earlier than other tech regions," Templin said, pointing out that the Washington area has always been buoyed by government spending.

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Take PEC Solutions Inc., a Fairfax company that sells technology services to government agencies. More than 90 percent of PEC's business is government-related, which means that PEC can afford to maintain its college-recruiting program even as other firms cut back, said Charlie Rose, chief administrative officer at the company.

Nationally, the most attractive job candidates are proficient in the C++ or Java computer languages, or they are familiar with Oracle database technology, according to the information technology group's survey.

Companies that took part in the ITAA study also reported that previous experience in the field is the most important factor in finding a new job -- setting up a now well-known Catch 22 for people who moved into technology from other fields and have little relevant expertise on their résumés.

Leading the pack in job losses last year were technology support staffers, often entry-level folks and jacks-of-all-trades who had flocked to the profession during boom times, the ITAA said.

Even though the job scene for techies feels bleak now, experts fear that when the economy improves, companies will not be able to find enough skilled workers to meet their needs. To cut costs during troubled times, some companies took the ax to their training budgets and refused to take a chance on entry-level workers, decisions that could come back to haunt them.

Manpower Inc., the temporary staffing firm, is one of several companies that have recently expanded training programs to move former welfare recipients, disabled adults and others into technology jobs. Manpower already rolled out its TechReach program in Miami and San Francisco, with other cities to come later this year.

"The whole idea is to train people and not put them in positions that are an end in themselves, but a beginning," said chief executive Jeffrey A. Joerres.

Survey Says

Employee referrals and the Internet continue to provide employers with a large chunk of their workforce, according to a recent report by the MMC Group, a New Jersey consulting firm.

The study tapped 18 companies that hired 122,000 employees last year. Nearly 23 percent of new hires were referred by workers currently at the firm, leading consultant Gerry Crispin to advise, "For job seekers, the implications are pretty simple: Find an employee to refer [you] as the No. 1 strategy."

Firms that took part in the survey said they found successful job candidates through the Internet, most directly from the employer's own Web site, more than 20 percent of the time.

On Tap

A free networking event for technology job seekers is scheduled for 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. May 16 at the Fairfax County Government Center in Alexandria. For more information, and to register, visit the Web site of the Northern Virginia Regional Partnership at www.nvrp.org.

Carrie Johnson's e-mail address is johnsonca@washpost.com. Join her today at 11 a.m. at WashingtonJobs.com at www.washingtonpost.com for an hour-long chat about technology work.

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