C# hits the high note

The number of job ads on the web have reached their highest level for 18 months, with C# skills in especially hot demand. But...

The number of job ads on the web have reached their highest level for 18 months, with C# skills in especially hot demand. But many salaries have fallen. Nicholas Enticknap reports.

The IT job market is now officially on the up, according to the latest quarterly survey of appointments data and trends by SSL for Computer Weekly. The number of jobs advertised on the web in the first quarter of 2004 was up on the same period the previous year for the first time since 2001. In fact job ads are at their highest level for 18 months.

Jobs advertised in magazines, which more accurately reflect recruitment activity by large users, rose for the third consecutive quarter. The good news is completed by the freelance market, where the positions on offer were up by more than a third.

Other notable highs include demand for C# skills up 197%, .net up 81% closely followed by Office up 78% on the first quarter 2003.

The encouragement provided by the raw statistics is echoed by executives in the recruitment business. Cathy Walsh, managing director of recruitment agency Triangle, senses a sea change. "You can feel the confidence coming back. People are looking forward, planning and anticipating. Last year it was more a question of 'I've got to get this done right now'. Businesses are confident about where they are going to go."

For PC support staff it was a particularly good quarter, as ads for this job title increased by the largest amount everywhere. On the web, jobs were up by a third. Contracting positions rose by three-quarters, while in the magazines the number of ads for PC support jobs nearly quadrupled.

Developers, managers and technical support staff were also in increased demand in all the markets.

Positions with traditional job titles such as programmer and operator declined, though this is probably more a question of nomenclature than a real decline. Programmers looking for new jobs should call themselves developers, and operators should change their job title to network technicians. Software engineering professionals were the other big losers, as they have been since early in 2002. This was the only job type in the contractor market to show a decline, and on the web job ads were down by 13%.

The growth in jobs advertised on the web came largely from London. In the capital itself, the number of jobs was up by more than two-thirds (compared to the overall market growth of 12%), while in outer London the increase was double the average. The only other region to show an increase higher than the overall market average was the north-east, the area where jobs held up best throughout 2003. In north-west England, Wales and the West, and Scotland the recession still continues, though the decline from a year ago was small in each case.

Inner London registered the biggest increase in the number of contractor job ads, more than double the figure of a year ago. The boom in London is probably a result of a significant increase in recruitment by the financial sector. On the web, jobs here were up by almost a half, while employers were looking for more than twice as many contractors as a year ago. This has had an effect on the skills in demand: those especially favoured by the financial institutions, such as Sybase and Perl, feature in half as many job ads again as they did a year ago.

Manufacturing industry did not share in the nationwide upsurge, and jobs on offer in this sector were down in all the markets. On the web, there was only half the number ads compared with a year ago.

The web is most favoured by IT suppliers, which placed twice as many job ads as all the user sectors combined. Software houses alone accounted for 43% of all jobs advertised here, up from just 33% two years ago. In the magazines the user community remained slightly ahead, despite a fourfold increase in software house recruitment here.

The growth in recruitment activity has not fuelled a boom in IT salaries, which are more or less the same as a year ago. The median increase across all job sectors was just 0.7%, equalling the all-time low set in the previous quarter. This is barely a quarter of the headline inflation rate for February of 2.5%.

Developers did better than most. Salaries offered to team leaders were up 8%, to senior developers up 3% and to ordinary developers up 6%. PC support staff also saw higher than average increases of 4%-5%.

The revolution in development techniques brought about by the simultaneous arrival of the web and of object-oriented programming appears to be over, for the time being at least. The skills sought by advertisers remain virtually the same: indeed there has been no change in the identity of the top 10 skills for the past four quarters. SQL and Unix have occupied the top two places since the beginning of 2003, but there have been some small movements further down the league table.

Java has moved back up to fourth from seventh a year ago, its highest position since early 2001. This is being fuelled by renewed interest from the software industry: Java is the most sought after programming language there, and is in overall second place in that sector's league table.

Office showed the highest annual growth of all the top 10 skills, and is now in fifth place. Demand here in contrast comes mainly from the user community: it was second in the financial, retail and public sector league tables, and fifth in the media sector during the quarter.

The top 25 skills are also the same as last time, though compared to a year ago there is one newcomer - C# at 17th, replacing Javascript which is now 28th. There was treble the demand for C# this time, easily the highest increase of the top 25. The other new wave Microsoft skill, .net, is also becoming more and more popular, and is up to 13th this time.

In all, 20 of the 25 skills featured in more job ads this time than a year ago (compared to 10 last time). The exceptions are a very mixed bag - Windows NT, TCP/IP, SAP, Solaris and embedded.

Windows NT is clearly in decline because it is being superseded by Windows 2000, which is now up to 14th. TCP/IP skills are less sought after because the comms industry remains in deep recession, though demand is still high in the retail and media sectors.

For SAP and Solaris the reason for the decline this time is less apparent. Demand for both skills has fluctuated widely over the past couple of years. In the case of SAP, the decline in recruitment by manufacturing companies is playing a part. SAP was this time most popular in the retail sector, where it was placed seventh. In the case of Solaris a trend towards use of Linux may provide part of the answer. Demand for Linux expertise was up by a half this time, and it has risen to its highest-ever position of 22nd.

Expertise in embedded programming was in great demand during the height of the recession, from 2000 to early 2003. Since then, recruitment has notably declined. Comms companies have been the biggest recruiters of embedded programming professionals, and this skill is in third place in that sector league table. Even here, though, demand is declining, accounting for a quarter of all embedded jobs this time compared to nearly one-third of such jobs last time.

One skill that has been unobtrusively rising up the table is the project management technology Prince. Demand this time was double that of a year ago, producing a 19-place rise in the table to 34th, its highest ever position.

At the other end of the table, X.25 has disappeared completely this time. This open systems packet-switching protocol seemed a huge advance when it was first ratified in 1976, but now that the web has taken over virtually all data communications it is rapidly disappearing into history.

About the survey

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 Sunday newspapers. It is primarily intended for recruitment agencies and CIOs with a substantial recruitment requirement.

The posts advertised are broken down in the survey into 54 job categories. 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 offers 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 is £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.

Read more on IT jobs and recruitment