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The Wireless Revolution: Great For Consumers, Tough For Employers

by Chuck Szajkovics, Employment Consultant, Firstsearch Inc.

In just a few years from now, more people will be accessing the Internet through wireless devices than through the use of wired computers at home or the office. The flexibility, convenience and sophistication of wireless technology is great for consumers. But finding skilled wireless workers to design, build and maintain all this new technology is a real problem for employers attempting to surf the wireless wave.

Wireless is where it's at

The wireless industry is booming because wireless technology is the ideal way to connect to the Internet. Consumers are checking stock quotes and email, buying movie tickets, making reservations for dinner and scheduling drinks afterwards, all from their wireless devices, and all without talking.

Yes, you can still talk on these phones. But the new generation of wireless phones have computer capabilities which cell phones do not possess. A small keyboard, a larger computer display screen, and a built-in web browser are standard on many of today's wireless "devices."

This technology is being driven in part by marketing, which is telling consumers they can do or get anything from their wireless devices. In Japan, consumers actually walk up to vending machines, input information into their phones, and the machine in front of them pops out a soft drink. Or imagine walking down the street, tired from shopping, and your wireless phone automatically alerts you to a relaxing corner coffee shop where you can rest your feet and get your thoughts together.

Features such as these have created a boom in customer demand for wireless services. Plus, wireless systems must still handle the large amount of voice traffic that consumers will still be generating. As more and more new wireless applications are developed, more and more information is being piled on the wireless systems.

Contracting and cross training - two hiring tools for the employer's toolbox

This consumer demand means capacities have to be increased, and new systems must be designed, built and maintained. All of these things require skilled employees, which this ultra tight labor market can't adequately supply - especially since the wireless industry is in its infancy and the skill sets needed are entirely new in many cases.

Surviving in this fast-paced industry means employers must adopt nontraditional hiring practices. Two such practices are contracting and cross training - sound solutions for talent-hungry employers. Contracting is a unique relationship between employer and employee. It's an arrangement where a worker performs specific tasks for one person or organization through the interface of a third party. The third party handles all of the employee's taxes, insurance, government filings and benefits, acting as the company's "back office."

This flexible hiring system allows companies to staff up for short-term projects, seasonal growth, or to meet tight deadlines affecting their bottom lines. Companies enjoy the talents of qualified individuals for a short timeframe without worrying about adding them to their corporate payroll, only to lay them off later. Contracting is also a good way for an employer to see how several contractors perform for them. Thus, the company can choose from a skilled group of candidates should it decide to add permanent staff.

Contracting has many benefits for employees as well. They can check out companies before committing to them as regular employees. Contract employers also get training and exposure to new technologies and methods that enhance their résumés. And hourly wages for contractors are usually higher than the salary they'd receive as "direct hire" employees. In fact, many "techie" employees work as full-time contractors, moving from position to position and increasing their skill sets as they pull in good money, and work in a variety of dynamic work environments they've hand-picked.

Cross training is another solution to the shortage of high tech and wireless employees, but it requires a shift in the thinking of hiring managers. "In essence, cross training means employers must loosen up their position requirements to allow skilled individuals from similar fields to step in and undergo necessary training for these new high tech positions," said Mike Kappel, president of Top Echelon, the nation's largest network of recruiters. "Being too rigid on position requirements means talented workers will be overlooked, and wireless positions will remain unfilled."

The average degreed RF engineer's (radio frequency design engineer) salary has doubled in the past four years. This makes keeping these techies a chore, and a costly chore at that. A company looking for an RF engineer should consider hiring a person from a related industry that utilizes radio principles. Candidates from the broadcast, land mobile, dispatch radio, satellite, and armed forces communications systems industries would all be great places to look for a skilled, adaptable employee.

Candidates from these fields are eager to break into the wireless racket, and are willing to accept lower salaries than experienced wireless personnel. This influx of new talent is healthy for the industry and offers a great future for the candidates as well.

Surviving in today's high tech environment requires employers to rethink their hiring strategies. Consumer demand and dollars will continue to drive the wireless industry, but only flexible companies possessing top talent will reap the benefits of this dynamic field.


Chuck Szajkovics is an executive recruiter at Firstsearch, based out of Chicago, Illinois. A preferred member of Top Echelon, Szajkovics specializes in placing candidates within the wireless industry. Szajkovics can be reached at chuck@firstsearch.com.
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