Tech & Work

Little good news for German consultant seeking job in North America

A consultant who is planning a move from Europe to Canada or the United States may find the going difficult. Statistics on unemployment and the demand for IT workers in both countries may make this type of move improbable.


Terryn Barill is a management and IT consultant in Princeton, NJ.

Question
I am a German banker and consultant with 15 years of experience in the financial sector. I also have international experience in streamlining organizations, selecting software packages, designing software—especially related to stock exchanges, equities, and mutual funds—and successful deliverance of these systems.

I want to apply for a job in the United States or Canada. I know that times are pretty rough just now, but I don’t need the job yet. I also have to apply for a working permit. What is your opinion about the chances of finding a job as a consultant in the finance industry?

—Juergen

Answer
You already know you want to work as a consultant, focusing on the financial industry. You didn’t give a geographic preference, which leads me to think that you’re flexible on location. A job search at Monster.com, the massive job search engine, came up with a list of over 5,000 open jobs in the financial and banking sectors, some of which were labeled as consulting positions.

A more focused search would obviously generate a more manageable list, but the sheer number of listings makes me think you could apply for a permanent position in the United States or Canada and find a job.

If that doesn’t work and you’re still focused on making a move to North America, your best bet may be to get a job with the local branch, office, or affiliate of a North American company and then actively look for opportunities to transfer to their U.S. or Canadian offices. But as you continue your search, there are some realities to keep in mind.

Not a pretty picture
In the mid-1990s, when the technology sector was booming, the work permit visa program was a major highway for computer programmers and engineers to enter the United States and Canada and help ease the labor shortage. In the wake of a tightening economy and September 11th, there have been many large-scale layoffs and many IT applicants are having a hard time finding work. The temptation is to assume that companies will be leaning toward hiring those workers who are already here and have a visa; however, the picture is not that clear.

There are some basic similarities in the work permit requirements in both the United States and Canada. Specifically, in both countries, you’ll need a valid job offer before you can even begin the visa application process for a work permit, and the employer needs to agree to sponsor you and pay the required fees. To find out more about the visa process, go to the U.S. State Dept. Web site or Canada Immigration. You’ll definitely want to contact the appropriate agencies prior to looking for work. That way, you can begin compiling the required information, ask them questions, and resolve potential problems before your prospective employer is involved.

The statistics on the IT job market are grim for those who want to use the work permit visa to immigrate to either the United States or Canada. A May 2002 report on the technology job market from the Information Technology Association of America (ITAA) states that U.S. companies will be short nearly 600,000 qualified IT professionals during the next 12 months. The ITAA says that more than 500,000 IT workers were laid off in the United States in the past year. An army of unemployed domestic tech workers is eager to land new jobs without the added competition of candidates from abroad. In addition, the H-1B visa program (work permit visa), which was expanded in 1998 and again in 2000, will shrink in 2003 from 195,000 to 65,000 workers, indicating a lessening dependence on importing technical and skilled help.

The U.S. Commerce Department has been optimistic that more than a million new computer scientists and engineers, systems analysts, and computer programmers will be required in the United States between 1994 and 2005. In 2001, it reaffirmed the state of supply and demand for IT workers and assessed the potential consequences of a failure to meet the country's need for these workers. However, this was pre-Sept.11, 2001, and was based on economic assumptions that are no longer valid.

Layoffs are a common option
While most employers aren’t concerned about terrorist attacks, the effect of the weakening economy is a major concern. Companies that haven’t already laid off workers may be considering it to help shield themselves from having to make larger cuts later. At the same time, some 57 percent of companies with 100 or more employees have had difficulty hiring workers with the required skills, according to the latest Heldrich Work Trends Study, published by Rutgers University in February 2002.

The picture is similar in Canada. The latest survey from the Human Resources Development Canada (HRDC) and Statistic Canada shows more than 30,000 jobs to be filled in the IT industry with qualified software programmers at all levels. They estimate the average Canadian company is facing a job vacancy rate of almost 4 percent in the IT industry. However, even with a newly streamlined process, Canada issued only approximately 1,000 visas to foreign IT workers during the first 20 months of the program.

Finally, two-thirds of the companies surveyed by HRDC reported shortages in the technical specialties of applications development, but also stated that they do not want to hire recent immigrants or workers from outside the country.

In both countries, the unemployment rate for IT workers has risen over the past year, with demand for certain IT specialties (specifically programmers, consultants, and software engineers) on the decline.

Of course, the governmental labor departments in both countries predict information technology careers to be among the fastest growing job sectors for the next five years. While their predictions of job growth are probably statistically valid, they are also relative. Reports on the job market tend to focus on one issue, such as total number of jobs in a sector or job vacancies.

Just because the demand for Java programmers is expected to rise faster than the demand for blacksmiths doesn’t mean that there will be job vacancies. The job vacancies may be clustered more around the entry-level or lower-paying end of the spectrum than the more competitive middle and senior levels.

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