IT execs in credit union land face mixed bag of changing challenges
COLUMBIA, S.C. - While the American economic engine continues to lurch, IT managers in credit union land say their work force has stabilized and that the softened labor market has helped them find and keep good help. That's the take from a quick check Credit Union Times did with executives...
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COLUMBIA, S.C. – While the American economic engine continues to lurch, IT managers in credit union land say their work force has stabilized and that the softened labor market has helped them find and keep good help. That’s the take from a quick check Credit Union Times did with executives at eight big, tech-savvy CU’s – including six on the West Coast, one in Texas and one on the Eastern Seaboard. “The overall IT hiring market for credit unions has improved in the past six months, even earlier really, due to the dot-com crash and the economy,” said Barb Kachelski, senior vice president of membership and CIO at CUES. “Obviously, some regions were hit harder than others,” she said. “However, not-for-profits, both credit unions and associations, can still struggle to find the right skill set and personality fit in a new IT employee. “They tend to pay less competitively than others. Also, since they have smaller staffs, they tend to need IT generalists who have a wider range of skills than larger companies. “From the employees’ perspective, meanwhile, skilled technology people can still find good jobs, but they are not as able to `name their own price’ as they had been earlier.” The raw numbers indicate the demand for tech help remains, despite the dot-com collapse of last year and the continuing struggles on Wall Street and Main Street. A recent report from the Information Technology Association of America trade group said U.S. companies will be trying to fill 1.15 million tech jobs over the next several months and probably will come up about 600,000 short. But it doesn’t mean it’s all hire and no fire. The trade group also found that the nation’s IT workforce had shrunk by about 529,000 workers from early 2001 to early 2002, so a good bit of that new hiring will be filling lost positions. And headhunters aren’t finding as much game. “Fewer jobs mean our employees are looking around a little less than before. However, those with high skill sets still receive occasional solicitations from job recruiters,” said Christina Brown, senior vice president and CFO at Xerox Federal Credit Union in El Segundo, Calif. Those high skill sets are even more in demand when they’re in the areas of highest demand. And we’re not talking geography here. “The hot areas have to do with systems security, due in part to necessity and in part to pressure brought on by NCUA’s in-depth IT and e-commerce review,” observed Brown, whose $617 million CU has 12 full-time IT staffers. For Rick Long, vice president of IT at Pennsylvania State Employees Credit Union, the hot areas are “LAN and networks, and programmers with XML and Microsoft .NET knowledge. The areas not so hot are Cobol programmers and to some degree Visual Basic programmers.” He added, “Retention for PSECU hasn’t been a problem. We pay our IT employees based on market surveys. Our turnover is very low. Over the past year, salaries have topped and actually leveled off.” PSECU currently has 40 IT employees and Long said layoffs in the Harrisburg region have made it easier to find “IT personnel with very good backgrounds.” Back on the West Coast, Mike Scheuerman at Oregon’s First Tech Credit Union said, “The hot spot now for us is in Web services such as XML and .NET technologies. “Areas that are taking a hit are in wireless. Despite the vendor hype, economic conditions have driven people away from checking their stock prices hourly using their Web phone.” Scheuerman added that “pay has remained steady with a 3% to 5% annual increase. We’re paying about market for most of our people. People aren’t running out and looking for new jobs.” First Tech has 23 FTE’s in IT, with about 88,000 members and $970 million in assets. At Wescom Credit Union in Pasadena, Calif., Rob Guilford also sees the areas of security, network administration and .NET services as driving the “the level of complexity and sophistication required of these jobs astronomically, and starting to bump the salaries for these up to six figures.” Meanwhile, the senior vice president of technology for the $2.2 billion CU sees stability, but not necessarily retrenchment, in “traditional areas like computer operations and item processing.” “They’re no less critical to day-to-day operations. They’re just not on quite as fast a salary track,” Guilford observed. Like others, he said job satisfaction and challenge are often as much a driving force for retention at his CU as are salaries. A particularly tech-aggressive CU with CUSO’s branching into a wide range of ventures, Wescom offers opportunities “to be on the leading edge that our people don’t want to lose necessarily for the sake of maybe another $20,000 a year,” Guilford said. The lull in the job market has really been noticeable for Helen Byrnes, executive vice president at Provident Credit Union, a billion-dollar CU in the San Francisco area. “It has become much easier to find IT professionals with a wide range of backgrounds at much more reasonable salaries,” she said. “CRM, call centers and data warehouses are very hot areas,” she said. “Also hot is Microsoft enterprise licensing because of the way Microsoft has changed its licensing requirements.” She adds the ability to work with the latest releases of technologies such as SQL 2000 and Windows NT to the list. Not so hot? “Account aggregation and wireless technologies,” Byrnes said. Overall, she said, “Salaries are definitely lower and some recruits are willing to take reductions in salaries for a secure position. “Retention has improved and we see far more stability. Security in a job means more than a signing bonus or raise right now.” Turnover certainly hasn’t been a problem for IT managers at San Antonio Federal Credit Union. “I think the last person to leave was almost two years ago,” said Dale Marroquin, first vice president for information technology at the 233,000-member, $1.5 billion Texas institution. “Our HR department has been pretty aggressive about pricing positions.” Marroquin said layoffs at high-tech firms have created “a deep talent pool” in the area “and there are quite a few people out there looking for employment today.” At SACU, two priority areas are “network and security professionals, and anything to do with Web services,” Marroquin said, while “the traditional hardware support – upgrading, putting in hard drives – has become more of a commodity now. You can take your PC to the nearest Best Buy and have it serviced, for example, rather than having to have it done in-house.” Meanwhile, SACU’s senior vice president and COO, Knox Pitts II, said developing wider skill sets among the CU’s IT staff of 12 and the rest of the workforce “is within everyone’s interest. For instance, the ability to work with SQL and Access databases is pretty valuable for everyone, including our business-line folks. We’re always looking at opportunities to cross-train, to give everyone the skills they need to do their jobs better.” At Boeing Employees Credit Union in Seattle, one area that has seen its share of the booms and busts of the high-tech economy, Butch Leonardson had this take on the IT employment scene: “We know via the media that the IT market has become a buyer’s market, with no more signing bonuses and plenty of candidates applying for positions,” said the vice president of information technology for the $4 billion, 315,000-member CU. “At BECU, things actually are the same as they were in 1999-2001. During those periods, we had little turnover and little need for recruiting. This situation continues today,” said Leonardson, who has 95 IT employees among the more than 950 staffers at BECU. Hot areas there include integration strategies and replacing old transaction systems, storage and security technologies “and sustaining a passionate focus on member service,” Leonardson said. Not hot? CRM, he said. LOOKING AROUND, LOOKING AHEAD While retention has improved, challenges remain for those CU’s, especially smaller ones, who have to hire a top-shelf IT person. “HR experts increasingly advise that a good solution for companies who have a hard time hiring IT professionals is to train from within, once they have identified individuals who have the capacity to learn the skills needed,” said Kachelski at CUES. “This is a great way to increase retention.” And what happens if and when the economy and the job market boom again? “We probably are just in a lull right now,” said Byrnes at Provident. “It won’t stay that way. Things will heat up in a year or two when technology catches up with issues of privacy, identity theft and security of information on the Internet.” Scheuerman at First Tech predicted: “My guess is that as the economy comes back, we’ll see a few more people poke their heads up and look around.” But he doesn’t expect things to be quite so frenetic this time around. “The interesting thing that I think we’ll see is that people will look a lot harder at new opportunities before they jump ship,” Scheuerman said, adding: “How to retain good people will remain pretty much the same. Treat them with respect and give them flexibility to do things that interest them along with the daily tasks.” Also asked to prognosticate, Brown, the CFO at Xerox FCU, said, “I expect the same trends to continue for at least a year. “I wouldn’t hazard a guess for five years from now! Especially not for such a fast-changing environment that is the reality of IT.” -
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