It sounds like a vicious circle: Virginia technology firms plead with colleges and universities to churn out more technology graduates, but many employers insist on hiring experienced workers rather than newcomers.

Tops is the category of information technology manager, where employers' average experience requirement was 6.5 years, a new survey has found. Companies seeking semiconductor designers and technicians called for an average of 5.5 years' experience.

Not surprisingly, employers were willing to settle for lower experience levels in lower-skilled positions. Help-desk operators and other support specialists can get hired with just 1.4 years in the job on average, according to the survey sponosred by Virginia Gov. James S. Gilmore III's Commission on Information Technology, a group of Virginia technology executives, educators and lawmakers.

The bias for experience is understandable in some cases, says William Aspray, executive director of the Computing Research Association in Washington. "In developing new products for the Net, the window of opportunity is six months. If you need to train programmers to work on that project, that window will be lost," he said in a recent interview.

Are You Experienced?

A recent survey of job openings on the Web shows that Virginia tech companies prefer to hire experienced workers rather than taking a chance on new graduates.

Average minimum years of experience required in 11 job categories represented in the survey, which covered 1,821 jobs advertised on leading Web hiring sites.

Information technology: 6.5 years

IT marketers: 3 years

Software programmers and developers: 3.1 years

Database administrators and developers: 3.1 years

Support specialists: 1.4 years

Groupware developers and systems analysts: 2.7 years

Web developers and graphics specialists: 2.4 years

Network administrators and engineers: 3.1 years

Telecom engineers and network specialists: 2.1 years

Computer designers and technicians: 4.4 years

Semiconductor designers and technicians: 5.5 years

SOURCE: Gov. James S. Gilmore III's Commission on Information Technology