Amid Economic Crisis, Jobs Can Still be Found in Health Care, Tech Fields and Even Espionage

By Steve Hendrix
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Christine Ruvo knew she was having a better recession than most as she mulled over the four job offers she had to choose from.

"I've never had a problem finding a job," said Ruvo, a veteran physical therapist who moved from New York after the first of the year to take a position with a Washington home health-care provider. "I didn't know that it was the kind of job that was recession proof when I got into it. But it's turned out to be a real blessing."

In a sea of frustrated job seekers, Ruvo is one of the lucky ones. But she is not alone. Amid the worst unemployment crisis in a generation, people are finding jobs in the Washington region, from therapists to receptionists to CIA agents. Even as temporary hiring freezes congeal into an employment ice age, the experts say there are hot spots, including health care, engineering, biotech, and software and network design.

And some of the hot spots will grow hotter, local hiring experts say. Stimulus spending will pump billions of dollars through government agencies and contractors in the area. Many lobbying firms and trade associations are staffing up to fight for a slice of the ballooning federal budget, meaning work for scores of lawyers, secretaries and researchers. The military base realignment will create boomlets near Maryland's Fort Meade and Virginia's Fort Belvoir, first for construction workers, then for administrators and janitors.

"We're one of the lucky ones to be in this area right now," said Fred DiSalvo, director of staffing and recruitment at Northrop Grumman's Reston-based Information Systems division. The company plans to hire about 4,000 employees in the Washington region this year, largely in software development and network security. "A lot of the new spending is going to be in real sweet spots for us, cyber security, health-information systems."

Melissa S. Fireman, president of Washington Career Services, said her clients are finding the most success in health care -- particularly home-based services -- engineering, scientific management and computer programming. Information technology experts, especially those with security clearance, are in demand. And if you are a biostatistician, the kind of analyst who sifts through the findings of medical studies, "you can write your own ticket," Fireman said.

The employment cataclysm held little fear for Ruvo when she decided to give up a longtime job at a nursing home to pursue a new personal relationship in Washington. She blew the dust off her résumé and quickly secured interviews and offers from the four businesses she contacted.

"The first day I posted it, I got eight phone calls from headhunters," said Ruvo, who settled in Arlington County and treats patients across the region. "They're still calling."

Health-care workers don't face much competition because other job seekers can't become physical therapists -- or nurses or medical social workers -- overnight. Ruvo's company, Professional Healthcare Resources of Annandale, has a trove of 30 to 40 jobs to fill each month, but managers haven't seen a big increase in applications from the desperately unemployed.

Still, Randy Stephens found a way to tap into the health-care boom without a nursing degree.

"I was able to jump in as an administrator," said Stephens, the company's director of recruitment, who started his new job in January. When the economy began eating away at his business as a consultant to federal contractors late last year, he decided to take his expertise in staffing to a more fail-safe sector. "Now I'm actually collecting résumés from friends who want to get into health care."

Another sector that is not-so-secretly hiring is the spy business. Local want ads include regular postings from the National Security Agency, Defense Intelligence Agency and Central Intelligence Agency, actively hustling for recruits. And all, reportedly, are enjoying a surge in job seekers.

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