Sun, 04 Jun 2000

IT skills in demand

Information technology is changing the world, including crisis-plagued Indonesia. The problem is the dearth of skilled workers in the country who know their way around the web. The Jakarta Post contributor Rudy Madanir looks at the hunt for workers with Net value, including those who went abroad.

JAKARTA (JP): Most people find themselves in a bind when it comes to job hunting, especially as the opportunities in Indonesia are few and far between.

It's a different case for information technology (IT) workers. The most sought-after professionals on earth, their problem is how to pick from the slew of attractive job offers piling up on their desks.

Recruiting firm PT Sumberdaya Info Prima is overwhelmed by the demand. "It's enough to make my head explode," said company president Chris Mangowal.

With contracts for 120 positions, the firm was forced to scramble to find the most qualified candidates before they were head-hunted by someone else.

The firm styles itself as a recruiting specialist for IT workers, claiming it has the most complete and accurate database for thousands of IT personnel in the country.

Even with its considerable resources, it, like many other companies, has had to face up to the daunting shortage of qualified candidates.

The company's staff interviews six to eight candidates a day, makes the rounds of campuses and, as a last resort, targets workers with proven IT skills.

Mangowal acknowledged that the growing practice of hijacking IT workers was unavoidable due to the desperate circumstances. The firm itself has gone after dozens of workers.

"Sometimes a client comes to us and says 'I want so-and-so', and tells us where we can find the person," said Mangowal.

Managing director of IT consultant PT Sapora Nusantara Linda Mangunsong said she was accustomed to having many of her experienced IT consultants move on to other firms.

Like other casually dressed, young IT workers in IT solution company PT Arus Nawala, 27-year-old technical director Arie Zanahar has found his e-mail full of job offers in the past year.

"Generally, they offer me three times my current salary. There was one offer for five times my salary plus stock options," he said.

Facing the real threat of losing his staff, company managing partner Oki Subagyo is also desperately seeking 15 to 20 more IT workers amid the skyrocketing number of job orders for website design and technical support.

Compared to other job hunters for whom the crisis drags on, workers who know the Internet are on easy street. Job wanted advertisements are crowded with IT-related positions. Many qualified IT specialists no longer bother to read the ads because the firms come to them, offering dazzling salary and benefit packages.

Mangowal said a senior management IT position could be worth US$100,000 a year, a senior programmer can earn Rp 10 million to Rp 15 million in take-home pay per month while a programmer with a couple of years of experience would earn from Rp 5 million to Rp 6 million a month.

An entry level IT worker can make between Rp 1.5 million and Rp 2 million a month, higher than salaries in most entry level positions in other sectors.

The tremendous demand for IT workers has been triggered by the proliferation of companies and established firms now yearning to go online. Many are still busy developing their websites, with e-commerce yet to be considered.

Once considered an exorbitant expense, IT technology is now a vital investment. Many firms have set up IT departments, in contrast to the outset of the crisis when they refused to buy new computers and laid off IT specialists.

The cyber era is still in its infancy in the country, but there is a great need for more IT workers -- computer programmers and technicians, webmasters, network engineers, technologically savvy managers -- to help it on its way to development.

There are no exact statistics on the demand for IT workers, especially qualified ones. Some estimate the demand could reach triple or quadruple the supply.


The problem is compounded as the small pool of locally qualified IT workers has been depleted by job offers from overseas. They might be treated like kings at home, but foreign enterprises are matching the offers with excellent benefits, especially tempting during the prolonged crisis.

"I would say about 1,000 of our alumni, or 10 percent of the total, are now working overseas," said Once Kurniawan, dean of the School of Computer Science at Bina Nusantara University.

He said many of the school's graduates found work in Singapore, and others went to Australia, New Zealand, Europe and the United States.

Many of the school's lecturers also could not pass up the offers from abroad, he added.

Mangowal said his company sent 50 people abroad at the beginning of the crisis.

"At that time, they just wanted to get out from Indonesia for safety reasons, no matter what happened overseas."

The brain drain of IT workers to foreign countries is facing not only Indonesia, but other developing countries like India and China.

Mangunsong, who claimed to have maintained close contact with Indonesian IT workers abroad, said she understood why many of the workers who were Chinese-Indonesians left the country during the instability.

"If I was one of them, I would have done the same thing, because of feeling insecure here while there were so many better opportunities outside," she said.

Due to the shortage of IT experts at home, Mangunsong said she sometimes called on Indonesians working abroad to help her on projects. She noted that clients would sometimes complain about the expense of using the outside consultant but "then I respond that our Indonesian consultant can easily get more payment by staying overseas".

With the election of President Abdurrahman Wahid in October last year, many Indonesian IT workers abroad started to come home. Mangowal said he was able to relocate many of the workers he sent abroad. Others, however, have stayed put abroad, with financial concerns included among their reasons.

Even with the return of IT workers, the number is still not enough to help the country build an e-economy.

Although the warnings are growing louder about the IT crisis, the education sector cannot be expected to solve the problem overnight. It takes time and money to develop IT specialists, with IT-related training usually coming with a hefty U.S. dollar price tag.