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Clashes over compensation hurting tech companies' ability to hire

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While access to skilled labor remains the top concern for companies in New Jersey's technology sector, qualified job seekers are not willing to start their careers at the low salary levels currently offered by businesses, and are instead taking jobs in other fields, industry experts said.

"What the disconnect between education and technology companies comes down to is, is this a skills or a dollars issue?" said James C. Bourke, a partner at Withum, Smith & Brown's Red Bank technology practice. "The mismatch is we have kids coming out of college with the talent, but companies don't want to pay them a higher salary, because they'll have to invest time and dollars in training them. Companies want their talent, but they're not willing to pay the salary levels for these people, and people with the skill sets would rather not work or take a job elsewhere than start at the company with a lower salary level."

Joseph Seneca, an economist at Rutgers University's Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy, said "it's possible people with skills are filling tech jobs across a whole wide range of industries, and are not seeing themselves only at technology firms anymore."

"If you look at the information technology sector in New Jersey's jobs data, total employment in that sector year-over-year has been down slightly or flat at best, implying very little job growth in the sector," Seneca said. "If technology firms are offering positions, but people with skills are turning them down, it implies those people with that training are able to get other positions — not in the technology sector, but in other areas that are using those skills — and I think that's possible."

According to an industry employment survey by the New Jersey Technology Council, Withum, Smith & Brown P.C., and Giordano, Halleran & Ciesla P.C., nearly half the 138 technology firm respondents said they do not offer entry-level positions, only hiring candidates with previous technical experience. However, 14 percent said they do not have the funding to offer salaries at the level needed to hire workers with that experience.

"Companies want employees to hit the ground running, but we have to train them," Bourke said. "Our company invests significant money in training our entry-level accountants to do their jobs, but many small tech companies just don't have the financial resources to invest in training new hires."

But NJTC President and CEO Maxine Ballen said federal and state government agencies offer employment credits and incentives to technology businesses just for that purpose, though nearly 75 percent of the firms surveyed do not take advantage of those programs, as they are not aware the opportunities exist.

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