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High-tech grads still plenty of choices

by Deanna Wrenn

CORRESPONDENT

MORGANTOWN -- Dot.com businesses are folding. Technology stocks are down.

But upcoming graduates in high-tech fields aren't even breaking a sweat in their mortarboards. Despite the publicity of the dot.com boom and bust, there are still more jobs for people in computer-related fields than qualified people to fill them, officials say.

Tech grads who could find jobs in two days (before the recent turn for the worse in the field of technology) might take four days now, said George Trapp. He's head of West Virginia University's Lane Department of Computer Science and Electrical Engineering.

If they had 10 job offers before, they might see five now, he added.

"They can be very picky," Trapp said. "There are some people losing their jobs with dot.coms, but we're still way short in terms of people in computer science, electrical engineering, software and other fields. It's a good profession to be in right now."

The average information technology starting salary for a four-year graduate is around $50,000, Trapp said. Variables like the location of the job and experience can change that number, he added.

It could be that money that draws students to the field. At WVU, the number of incoming freshman in these programs is the highest it's ever been. For Trapp, the first computer science professor at the school in 1970, seeing such rapid growth is a reflection of the job market.

"It's been one heck of a change," he said. "We're struggling right now to teach all the students. Everybody's working harder than before -- it's fun and exciting."

For recent graduates who come in with an associate's degree, like that from the West Virginia Junior College, the job market is also healthy.

"The market has a huge demand for individuals with education, certification and hands-on experience," said Bernie McCourt, IT coordinator for West Virginia Junior College. The college has schools in Morgantown and Fairmont and is planning to open a branch in Bridgeport.

"The industry," he said, "is crying out for people like that."

For most graduates of the Junior College, the degree program will allow them a starting salary around $25,000 to $30,000, one student said. After experience in the field, they can increase their pay.

"I've got a wide-open door," said Reedsville's Jeremy Feather. He's a student in information technology and Internet technology who graduates in December. Feather hopes to eventually become a network administrator .

"The job market for IT right now is just out of this world," Feather said.

Students can move to places like Silicon Valley, Charlotte, Boston, Dallas, Washington, D.C., or other areas where high-tech businesses are booming. Or they can stay close to home -- an option tech grads from the state didn't always have.

"For a long time, people left West Virginia once they got their technical degrees," Trapp said. "But now there are jobs here, too."

Some West Virginia companies have even made an effort to regain those grads who moved away years ago.

"In the past, the state wasn't marketed in a tech-job type of way," said John Gaddis, a senior software engineer with the West Virginia High Tech Consortium Foundation.

"We're trying to get the area, and we're also trying to get those who have moved to come back with their experience."

A Web site run by the WVHTC Foundation, www.wvjobs.org, lists high-tech companies and posts graduates' resumes in hopes of connecting West Virginia grads with West Virginia jobs. Gaddis hopes that as the number of tech jobs expands, more and more students will stay in the area.

"We want to bring back people and keep new grads here," he said. "We have a lot of room to grow in this state."

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