Public cash offers job lifeline

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Public cash offers job lifeline

Nicholas Enticknap
The public sector contributes more than 25% of all IT vacancies in print as commercial demand collapses

IT professionals looking for a new job in newspapers and magazines are more likely to find opportunities in the public sector than anywhere else during the current IT employment recession.

While the total number of IT jobs advertised in the newspapers fell by well over 80% in the second quarter of this year, government bodies reduced their advertising by only 20%.

The quarterly SSP/Computer Weekly Survey of Appointments Data and Trends shows that the public sector accounted for more than one in four of all IT jobs advertised in the press during April, May and June. This is up from 6% a year ago, and from 3% in the second quarter of 2000.

The public sector accounted for less than 3% of all IT jobs advertised in every year from 1995 to 1999.

IT professionals can expect the jobs boom in the public sector to continue, with billions of pounds of taxpayers' money pledged to support massive IT projects in the NHS, criminal justice system and local and central government.

This astonishing increase in job ads in the print media is partly because government bodies have been the most reluctant of all to turn to the Web for its IT staff. In the last quarter they advertised well under 1% of all IT jobs on that medium.

But there is evidence too that the public sector is the only area currently expanding its use of IT rather than retrenching after the year 2000 and dotcom boom.

Cathy Walsh, managing director of Triangle Partnership, is one recruitment specialist who is finding that most of today's IT action is taking place in public bodies rather than the commercial sector.

"There are a lot of changes there," she said. "They are having to run their operations in a more commercial manner, and are looking at how to make it better from a service point of view, at how IT can help give them public service. And the more they can save, the more they have to invest."

Elsewhere, the picture is uniformly gloomy as opportunities for job seekers plummeted during the second quarter. Posts advertised on the Web are down by two-thirds on the same period a year ago.

On the Web during April to June manufacturing and engineering companies cut back least, and media and retail companies the most, along with software houses.

The IT industry overall cut back by 4% more than the average, while user advertising fell by 9% less than the average.

Regionally, the decline in advertising was smallest in Scotland and Northern Ireland, and greatest in Outer London. Central London did a little better, with advertising falling by less than the average for the first time in two years.

The differences involved are, however, so small that they are probably statistically insignificant.

Salaries on offer have remained almost static, with the average annual rise mirroring inflation at 1.6%.

In this respect permanent staff are better off than contractors: according to SSP managing director George Molyneux, "There, salaries have collapsed - they are down by 30%."

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