by Michael Goldberg

The 495 Networking Support Group Unites Tech Job Hunters

May 01, 20033 mins
IT Leadership

Louis Frissore runs data centers. Alexander Cedrone, a data warehouse manager, makes CRM work. Susan Bradley is a human resources manager who has honchoed PeopleSoft implementations.

One by one, they and some 30 other tech-savvy pros took their brief turns on stage recently to share their experiences with 200 of their peers. A few years ago, this same crowd might have gathered at a posh downtown hotel to hear presentations about IT project lessons or innovative technologies.

But not today. This meeting is about job-hunting.

This is The 495 Networking Support Group. It assembles weekly at Congregation B’nai Shalom, a synagogue in Westboro, Mass., not far from where Data General engineers once designed advanced minicomputers (inspiring the best-selling 1981 book The Soul of a New Machine).

A lot more than the size of computers has changed since then. Data General is gone?now part of storage giant EMC. Route 495, the technology-heavy highway ringing Boston, is dotted with office buildings featuring For Lease signs. The only thing trending up around there is The 495 Networking Support Group’s size: It has grown to 1,700 members in two years.

The Labor Department reports that 308,000 jobs were lost in February as the unemployment rate hovered at 5.8 percent. A study by the trade group American Electronics Association showed a combined loss of 560,000 high-tech jobs in 2001 and 2002, mostly in manufacturing and communications services.

The Boston area represents a particularly sour spot for white collar, IT-oriented job-hunters, says Paul Harrington, a labor economist at Northeastern University. Massachusetts has lost 157,000 jobs, or 4.7 percent of its workforce, since the recession started in January 2001. Losses have hit low-end manufacturing and high-end professional services. “What makes this recession unique is that it’s more white collar than in the past,” Harrington says.

In the synagogue’s meeting hall, Tony Badman, 57, cofounder and president of the networking group, explains that 495 is like many of the support organizations that have sprung up around the country in this recession, but with a difference: There’s an emphasis on action.

So besides the usual networking sessions, 495 has a password-protected website that posts rŽsumŽs and job opportunities. The group presented a survey about members’ economic struggles to state and federal officials to lobby for more government support. Members give brochures about the group to area employers through their employed spouses. They’re even talking about opening up an office to offer the group’s programming and IT expertise for contract hire.

The reality, however, is that no matter your experience or the effort you put into looking for work, jobs are hard to find. As she hunts, Bradley, the HR manager, teaches an organizational behavior course at the online University of Phoenix. Badman, who delivers the U.S. mail two days a week, says that many in the group realize they may have to settle for jobs that are less prestigious and remunerative than they had in the boom years.

That certainly goes for Frissore, 54, a 30-year IT veteran who worked as a data center manager for EDS until July 2002. Now he’s a part-time photographer, taking team photos for youth leagues. The support group helps, says Frissore, because “everyone here is in the same boat.” His outlook? “The chances of me finding a decent job in IT are slim. I’ll probably have to settle for a job in another field for a lot less money.”