IT salary survey: skills gap pushes up pay for key roles

The summer of 2007 has been the best for IT job-hunters for many years, following a long period of market stability. Jobs advertised are running at their highest level for 22 quarters, according to the Survey of Appointments Data and Trends compiled by Salary Services Limited (SSL).

The summer of 2007 has been the best for IT job-hunters for many years, following a long period of market stability. Jobs advertised are running at their highest level for 22 quarters, according to the Survey of Appointments Data and Trends compiled by Salary Services Limited (SSL).

Advertisers have been particularly interested in recruiting junior staff, rather than managers and experienced workers. Employers are struggling to find enough young talent.

Paul Smith, marketing director at recruitment consultancy Harvey Nash Group, says, "There is a huge skills shortage. It is massive. There is a shortage of talent at the bottom end - junior developers, helpdesk, infrastructure support, people with one to two years' experience, and graduates."

Smith gives two reasons for this shortage. First, young people are not as attracted to careers in IT as they once were, as salaries are generally lower than they can get elsewhere. Second, schools and universities are not promoting IT as much as they used to. As a result, the number of people taking IT courses is declining, and the number of qualified people is reduced.

Skills shortage drives outsourcing

This shortfall is one the factors driving the trend towards outsourcing IT development to India and the Far East. This has reached such a level that, according to Smith, India now has its own skills shortage.

The shortfall has had another more welcome effect back home: average salaries on offer are shooting upwards. The annual increase in salaries in the past quarter was the highest since the peak of the Y2K boom in 1998.

The number of permanent IT jobs advertised rose 20% in the third quarter of 2007, compared with a year ago, and were up 9% on the second quarter figures, reaching their highest level since the first quarter of 2002.

Advertised jobs for senior staff rose by 5%, and there was a small decline in the number of management positions on offer. It was in junior staff that the biggest interest lay, with advertising shooting up by nearly 30%.

Positions on offer for non-senior database staff rose by 27%, for developers by 32%, for networking staff by 38% and for technical support staff by 42%. The surge in demand for PC support staff noted in Q2 has continued in the third quarter, with the number of jobs on offer up by 33%.

IT professionals based in London and the South benefited most, with a double-digit percentage increase in available job. The North, Scotland and Northern Ireland, in contrast, have been less fortunate. They have seen a decline in the jobs offered relative to a year ago, with jobs falling by nearly 20% in the North West, and by more than 10% in the West Midlands.

Across industry sectors the variation is less marked, with only the manufacturing sector suffering a decline. The biggest increase in jobs offered was in the public sector, where vacancies were up by more than 33%. This is a surprise, as several major government development projects are reaching maturity.

The termination of contract jobs that has inevitably resulted is being accompanied by recruitment of a significant number of permanent staff. There were big increases also in advertising by software houses and by the financial and retail sectors.

Salaries on offer across all industries were up by an average of 5% - the first time in this millennium that this figure has got close to the average UK wage increase. Junior staff again benefited more than managers and experienced IT professionals.

Programmers break salary ceiling

Salaries offered to developers were up 6%, and hardware service engineers did better. with the average offer up 9%. Network support engineers and support analysts better still, with advertised salaries up 12%. Programmers' pay offers were up 12%, and this took the average salary on offer to coders above £30,000 for the first time.

For senior staff the picture was not so rosy. Salaries offered to consultants were 3% down on a year ago. IT managers bucked this trend, with the average salary up 10%, taking it above £60,000 for the first time.

The web is certainly the place to look for jobs. IT advertising in newspapers and magazines continues to decline, and was down by more than 50% on the third quarter of last year.

The number of contracts advertised for freelance IT professionals were also up 20% - about the same as in the second quarter. Again, junior staff were more in demand than senior people. Developers scored most heavily, with demand for less-experienced staff rising by nearly 50% compared with a year ago.

The geographic spread was more even here, with all areas showing an increase except the North West. The biggest increase came in Wales and the West, where the number of contracts on offer in the third quarter were up 50% on a year ago.

Manufacturing companies again decreased their advertising relative to a year ago, as did the public sector. All other sectors shared in the overall increase. The biggest rises in recruitment advertising came in the finance and retail sectors, with the number of contracts on offer up by more than 40% in both cases.

The league table of skills most in demand remains relatively unchanged, as the arrival of new Microsoft software over the past year or so has yet to make an impact (Vista, for example, lies in 75th place). The top four skills in the table have held their positions for eight consecutive quarters.

Linux demand increases

There are two striking features in the skills table. Linux has moved up to 14th, its highest-ever position, with well above average growth of 33%. The growth in Unix jobs was below average at 12%, and of the proprietary versions in the table only AIX is more in demand than a year ago, and then only just.

Solaris and HP/UX are both on the way down. This trend away from proprietary Unix towards open source has been apparent for some time, and it is gaining momentum.

Another interesting feature of the table is that Javascript and Jscript showed the biggest growth rate of the top 25 skills, featuring in more than 50% more adverts than a year ago.

Much lower down the table, there was a noticeable increase in demand for legacy mainframe skills. Advertisements specifying Cobol experience more than doubled, and those looking for professionals with knowledge of IBM's JCL increased by 250%. But the numbers are small, and there is no question of a return to the boom times of 2000.

How the survey is conducted

This article is based on information from the Quarterly Survey of Appointments Data and Trends.

The survey analyses ads for IT professionals on the web, in the trade press, and the quality national dailies and Sundays. It is intended primarily for recruitment agencies and CIOs with a substantial recruitment requirement.

The posts are broken down into 55 categories, which include details of the number of posts advertised and the average and median national salaries offered for the past five quarters.

The survey provides further analyses within each job category by platform type, industry sector and regional location. It also gives a breakdown of the technical skills most in demand.

The survey costs £250 per issue or £350 for an annual subscription. This covers four issues, and includes a free software program, which allows selection of combinations of region, industry and software skills for specified job types. You can order it at

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