Demand for networking professionals bucked the trend as the overall IT jobs market levelled off in the first quarter of the year. Nicholas Enticknap reports on the latest SSL/Computer Weekly jobs survey.
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The heartening recovery in the IT jobs market levelled off in the first quarter. Throughout last year, jobs advertised on the web were well up on both the same quarter the previous year and the immediately preceding quarter. In the first three months of 2005, the jobs on offer were again well up on a year ago, but actually fell slightly relative to the last quarter of 2004.
That was unexpected, because the last quarter of any year is usually the worst, being dominated by the Christmas holiday period, whereas the first quarter is usually one of the best. Easter was very early this year, which will account for some of the shortfall in job advertising: it always tails off about a fortnight before the Easter eggs come out of their wrappers.
The position in jobs advertised for contractors is similar. The number on offer here was more than double that of a year ago, but almost exactly the same as in the last quarter.
This check in the rate of recovery in the IT recruitment market is the major finding from the latest issue of the SSL/Computer Weekly Survey of Appointments Data and Trends.
The feeling in the recruitment industry is that the slight downturn is not significant. “My personal feeling is that it is a blip,” says Totaljobs sales director Richard Knott. “I am still optimistic that we shall see a year of steady growth.”
The situation is certainly healthier for IT professionals than it was in the dark days of late 2002 and early 2003, but jobs advertised on the web are still running at only about 33% of the level of 2001.
Among permanent staff, networking professionals did best over the quarter, with the jobs advertised virtually doubling – welcome good news for these specialists, who have not had much to cheer about over the past couple of years. Systems staff and technical support specialists also did considerably better than average, while jobs offered to developers rose by almost exactly the average, by around 75%.
For contractors the picture was rather different. Here, while technical support staff saw smaller-than-average market growth, software engineers, surprisingly, had nearly three times as many jobs to ponder than a year ago. “Software engineer” is a job title than has gone out of fashion recently, at least in the commercial world, and the rise in the number of permanent jobs offered was the smallest of any group over the quarter.
Full-time jobs advertised on the web in old-fashioned mainframe and minicomputer sites grew more quickly than elsewhere, although these jobs now account for only a small proportion, around 5%, of the total. Jobs involving Unix systems rose by only 50%, well under the overall average of 75%.
Geographically, the jobs on offer to permanent staff virtually doubled in outer London, but rose by only 25% in the centre of the capital. The picture is similar in contract positions: jobs in outer London more than doubled, while jobs in inner London were up by less than 50%. The discrepancy is hard to explain, especially as recruitment by the financial sector was buoyant. It seems likely to be a statistical glitch with no long-term significance.
Far from the madding crowd, jobs available for both permanent and freelance professionals also doubled in Scotland and Northern Ireland.
IT industry recruitment of permanent staff continued strongly during the quarter, and these companies accounted for well over 50% of all web advertising. Among the user sectors, the financial and media sectors both roughly doubled their advertising compared with a year ago, while the public sector also grew recruitment by more than the average.
In the contract market, there was notable growth in recruitment by both manufacturing companies and the public sector, each of which trebled their requirement compared with a year ago.
Salaries on offer to permanent staff rose by an average of 2.8%, four times as much as a year earlier. This is higher than the new-fangled CPI inflation rate of 1.9%, but below the old-style “headline” inflation rate of 3.2%, and well below average earnings inflation, which stood at 4.7% in February.
Rates offered to contractors over the quarter rose by rather more, an average of 4.0%, two and a half times the level of the first quarter of 2004 but still less than earnings inflation. Employers of IT staff in all settings are driving hard bargains.
IT directors were particularly well-favoured over the quarter, with the average salary on offer rising to a new peak of just under £95,000. Operations managers were also much in demand, with salaries on offer up 10% (and the jobs on offer up by 250%). In contrast, the IT industry was ungenerous in its offers to consultants, with salaries down 8% on a year ago to an average of £62,000.
Contracts offered to developers were paying an average of £48 an hour, up from £42 a year ago. This translates into an average salary well over double that paid to permanent staff performing the same job.
On average, rates work out at about 75% on top of the average salary for a given post, although naturally contractors do not earn that much more than permanent staff, because they have to pay their own overheads and do not get paid for annual leave or for periods when they cannot find work.
In the skills league table, new-wave skills from Microsoft are notably in demand, and at the expense of the old. Microsoft .net is now solidly entrenched in the top 10, where it has been for three quarters, while C# has risen to its highest ever position of 13th. C# is the skill showing the biggest growth in demand in the top 25, while .net featured in more than double the number of ads of a year ago. Further down, IIS has also moved up to a new peak of 40th.
In the applications market, Redmond has further strengthened its grip, with Office in a strong second place overall for the second consecutive quarter.
Windows, however, is losing ground, although the position is confused by some advertisers specifying Windows 2000, others Windows NT and still others simply Windows. All three of these are on the decline, though, with even Windows 2000 falling five places compared with a year ago.
Unix has also lost ground, and is down to fifth this time, its lowest position for four years. Demand for Solaris also grew by less than the average, though it remains in 24th place. The gainer in the operating stakes is Linux, which is up to 17th this time, the fourth quarter in succession it has been in the top 20. It is one of only five skills in the top 25 to feature in more than double the number of ads of a year ago.
Of the others, .net and C# have already been mentioned. That leaves SAP, which enjoyed a good quarter, and Cisco, which has returned to the top 25 for the first time in two years – one consequence of the greater than average increase in demand for networking professionals.
Among several other promising indicators for comms staff, voice over IP has moved into its highest ever position of 54th, 31 places up on a year earlier.
How the survey is conducted
This article is based on information contained in the SSL/Computer Weekly Quarterly Survey of Appointments Data and Trends.
The survey analyses advertisements for IT professionals on the web and in the trade press and the quality national dailies and Sundays. It is primarily intended for recruitment agencies and CIOs with a substantial recruitment requirement.
The posts advertised are broken down into 55 job categories in the survey. Within each job category, the survey provides details of the number of posts advertised and the average and median national salaries offered for the last quarter and for each of the previous four. The survey provides further analyses within each job category by platform type, industry sector and regional location.
It also provides a breakdown for the major job categories of the technical skills most in demand. In each analysis, it again details the average salary on offer for each of the past five quarters.
The price of a single issue of the survey is £250, and for an annual subscription £350. This covers four issues, and includes a free copy of a Windows-based software product on CD which allows selection of combinations of region, industry and software skills for a specified job type. Readers can order it at www.salaryservices.co.uk