52° Good Evening
52° Good Evening

LI tech firms struggle to fill positions

Philip Rugile, from eGifter, greats a visitor during

Philip Rugile, from eGifter, greats a visitor during the Technology Island Tech Job Fair at the Cradle of Aviation in Garden City, Thursday, June 11, 2015. Photo Credit: Steve Pfost

Technology companies on Long Island are looking to hire, but employers say the talent needed to fill positions is hard to come by.

Particularly in software engineering, and app and Web development, companies are struggling to hire and retain workers, both at entry and senior levels.

"It's a huge problem," said Peter Goldsmith, president of the Long Island Software Technology Network, a promoter of tech growth on Long Island. "Software companies are only as good as the people that work there. That's really the product they're selling."

The most critical shortage cited by Island companies is the lack of senior workers with four or more years of experience.

"It's not easy to find what you're looking for, especially if you're picky," said Tyler Roye, CEO of eGifter, a Huntington software company specializing in online gift exchanges.

Speaking earlier this month at Nassau County's first tech job fair, which featured 70 companies looking to fill more than 250 jobs, Roye said his company is committed to scouting out the right talent.

"We're doing our darnedest to put that extra time in to find the quality candidates we need to grow," he said. The "most capable [people] are gainfully employed," making the search challenging.

Demand outstrips supply

While it's hard to determine exactly how big the Island's demand for tech employees is, nationally, the trend is clear: There aren't enough of them.

According to White House estimates, by 2020 more than 50 percent of STEM -- science, technology, engineering and math -- jobs will be in computer science fields. In the next 10 years, 1.4 million computer science-related jobs will become available, but only 400,000 graduates in the field will be added.

A similar shortage exists locally, said Yacov Shamash, vice president for economic development and dean of the College of Engineering and Applied Sciences at Stony Brook University. "We just don't have enough kids going into the computer science and engineering fields."

Stony Brook, Hofstra University and the New York Institute of Technology are working to teach more students the skills to compete in the tech economy, one that includes not only software companies, but, increasingly, older retailers and service providers not traditionally seen as part of the tech sphere.

The growth is notable.

Since 2011, NYIT's Manhattan and Old Westbury campuses have seen undergraduate enrollments in computer science go from 179 to 295. Graduate enrollment jumped to 651 from 144 during the same period.

At Stony Brook, computer science is the largest major within the university's engineering college, with about 1,000 students.

But demand continues to outpace supply.

Hurdles to hiring

Part of the problem, Shamash said, dates to the fallout of the dot-com bust of the early 2000s, which turned off many students -- and more specifically their parents -- to an education in computer science. With the dot-com collapse, enrollments in computer science across the country dropped about 60 percent, he said, and that decline continues to limit the talent pool of experienced workers today.

Long Island companies face extra hurdles in attracting and retaining skilled tech talent.

Neighboring New York City, with its generally higher salaries and larger stock of rental housing, holds allure, especially for younger workers.

"The challenge for Long Island is always the balance of quality of life versus chasing the money of Manhattan," said Evan Price of the Bachrach Group. The Manhattan-based recruiting firm recently opened an office in Farmingdale with a focus on finding employees for Island tech companies.

"You will always see more money in Manhattan than you see on Long Island, but you see a different quality of life out here," Price said.

To attract more experienced workers, there's the additional obstacle of corporate competition and headhunting.

On top of that, many people don't know that "there are a lot of jobs here," said Goldsmith, who says the Island's growing tech industry needs to do a better job of marketing itself. The job fair, organized by TCubed -- short for Tech Task Team, a new county advisory committee -- was designed to make talented workers aware of the opportunities available to them on the Island, said Goldsmith, co-chair of the committee.

For John Bogosian, co-founder of East Hampton-based zingFit, an online fitness scheduling company, the problem is getting talent to come out east.

"If you want the best tech people, they tend to be in cities," said Bogosian, who was at the fair looking to fill at least eight positions in development, engineering, support and management. "I think that's the challenge for anyone anywhere that's in a suburban place that's trying to grow a tech company."

He said recruiting is made more difficult by rising real estate values on the East End, making the move cost-prohibitive for many candidates. "It's hard to get people out there," he said.

Competition for talent

Competition among businesses in the region, in neighboring Manhattan and even as far west as Silicon Valley, exacerbates the situation.

Giants like Google, Facebook and LinkedIn, as well as Wall Street firms looking for analysts, make regular appearances at computer science and technology internship fairs held twice a year at Stony Brook.

Jorge Vargas, human resources and finance manager for Manhattan-based appFigures, a startup company that provides analytics services for mobile app developers, said the hiring situation is no easier in the city's Silicon Alley.

"It's tough to find the right candidates," Vargas said. "Anything you can imagine throwing at candidates, companies out there are doing it."

At one recent hiring event in the city, employers brought in dogs to showcase corporate commitment to pet-friendly work environments. At another, remote-controlled flying sharks were deployed above the showroom floor to attract job seekers to booths.

The competition is so intense that Vargas said he often goes outside the city and even the state to recruit. Earlier this month, his search led him to the Nassau job fair.

Although more than 1,200 showed up to the fair at the Cradle of Aviation Museum looking for opportunities, many were not exact fits for the needed skills. While some companies lauded the chance to meet candidates, TCubed co-chair Andrew Hazen said some job seekers came out to network, or seek other non-tech positions. "You never know who's going to be coming in," said Hazen, who is also CEO of LaunchPad, a coworking space for startups.

As for job seekers, many found the chance to see a lot of companies in the same room seeking their skill set as helpful.

For about nine years, Alexei Roschak, 25, a Web developer from Westbury, has worked for an advertising agency that recently moved from Long Island to Manhattan. He went to the fair to check out his options, hoping to find something on Long Island. "I want to do the same thing I'm doing now but with a lot more structure," Roschak said. "I've learned enough at my current job where I can be a competent worker in a different location that has more structure, even a harder workflow."


We're revamping our Comments section. Learn more and share your input.

More news