DBAs and data warehouse architects in high demand

Demand for senior DBAs and data warehouse architects has risen sharply. How can UK organisations find needed database skills, and how should skills availability influence database purchasing plans?

Demand for senior database administrators (DBAs) and data warehouse architects in the UK has risen sharply over the last year, as signs of economic recovery have encouraged employers to kick-start new data management, data governance and data quality projects requiring additional database skills and resources.

Although many such initiatives had been put on hold during the recession, business leaders have become increasingly keen in recent months to arm themselves with accurate and timely corporate information in a bid to exploit potential growth opportunities.

But the problem many have faced is that experienced DBAs and data warehouse specialists have often not been keen to take up new positions because of uncertainty over the wider employment market situation -- although there has been more movement since the end of last year, according to Michelle Penn, business intelligence and data warehouse business manager at recruitment consultancy Hays.

“I’ve recommended to some employers that in order to attract the best people, they need to make salaries more of an incentive,” she said. “Senior DBAs and data warehouse architects are quite difficult to get hold of, and the average salary is increasing as a result.”

This situation is particularly marked among professionals with Microsoft SQL Server skills, which are now ranked the fifth most desirable of any technology type, Penn said. Salaries for SQL Server professionals rose by an aggregate of 20.25% last year, taking the wage bill for a basic DBA up to between £34,000 and £45,000 per annum. A senior DBA can now command £60,000, while senior data warehouse architects and developers are looking at between £55,000 and £70,000 per year.

Database skills already taken, hard to find
A wider challenge, however, is that “all of the really good people tend to be employed already,” Penn said. As a result, to make their job opportunities stand out, employers these days need to make data warehousing and DBA salaries “more inviting” and ensure that their unique selling points are obvious to potential candidates. They also have to expect existing employers to make counteroffers, which are becoming increasingly commonplace.

Nonetheless, Penn believes that the pool of potential candidates with desirable data management skills could increase over the course of this year because of widespread public-sector job cuts.

Richard Nott, website director at online IT specialist recruiter CWJobs.co.uk, is seeing a similar situation. Demand for skilled database professionals is now higher than it has been for the past two years, he said, particularly in the financial services sector.

As a result, Nott has seen permanent Oracle DBA salaries rise by an average of between 3% and 4% the last 12 months, while contractor rates have increased by between 6% and 7%

“There are certainly jobs out there for good database people, but marrying them with employers is not as easy as it seems,” he said. “A lot of good people aren’t looking to move jobs, and it’s not necessarily that easy to find candidates.”

Mitigating the data management skills shortage
One organisation that has noticed the market’s changing dynamics is a charity that undertook its last round of recruitment for SQL Server DBAs and report writers about six months ago and found the situation “pretty difficult,” according to the organisation’s database and development manager.

“The people we were sent from agencies were great on paper, but when we interviewed them, they just didn’t have the skills,” he explained. “The volumes of people coming through the door were the same, but the actual quality wasn’t, and my feeling is that people just aren’t moving around.”

As a result, the manager, who asked not to be identified, started requesting that candidates undertake a test before their interviews, with the idea that “if they can’t do various basic things,” they would not be seen in order to cut down on time wasting.

Notwithstanding the tricky recruitment situation, however, he believes that standardising on as few technology platforms as possible is still the way forward. “From a skills perspective, you want everyone to muck in and for everyone to know how things work, so that you’re not just reliant on one team member knowing one database platform or one version of a development language,” he said.

The same applies to administration and technical support activities, because ending up with lots of databases simply becomes a “headache to manage,” the manager added.

“If I decided to introduce another platform, I’d definitely have to start thinking about in-house skills availability and whether I could retrain people, or whether I’d have to look outside,” he concluded. “But you also have to tie decisions like that to your IT strategy. To my mind, standardisation is key to getting a database strategy right.”

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