Jobs slump continues

The latest Computer Weekly survey of job advertisements shows that IT recruitment fell yet again, and there is no sign of an end...

The latest Computer Weekly survey of job advertisements shows that IT recruitment fell yet again, and there is no sign of an end to the downturn. Nicholas Enticknap reports.

There is little good news for job hunters in the SSP/Computer Weekly Survey of Appointments Data and Trends for April to June. Jobs advertised on the principal IT recruitment Web sites fell by two-thirds relative to the same quarter in 2001, and were down by a quarter on the first three months of this year.

Advertising in the trade weeklies and the quality national dailies fell by an even greater amount, more than four-fifths. These jobs accounted for less than 3% of all jobs advertised.

The lack of jobs on offer reflects the retrenchment going on in IT companies around the country. The E-Skills UK Quarterly Skills Analysis (Computer Weekly, 15 August) found that the total employee count in the IT/telecoms industry sector has fallen for three successive quarters, and is now down to just over one million.

The SSP survey backs up this finding, showing that recruitment by the IT industry fell by a faster rate (69%) than it did among the user community (down 56%).

The IT job advertising recession has been continuing for much longer than three quarters, in fact since the middle of 1998 when the y2k compliance boom peaked. SSP managing director George Molyneaux believes this is significant, arguing that many people re-equipped at the end of the last decade and so will not need to renew their systems for some time. "I believe the impact of year 2000 is more than people thought. If so, the upturn should logically be in the second quarter of next year."

Nobody is reporting any signs of an upturn yet. Cathy Walsh, managing director of recruitment agency Triangle Partnership, speaks for the majority in finding that it is still very flat and she argues, "There are no major releases of software coming to make it grow faster. There is no reason for people to change."

But no previous recession has lasted forever, and this one has now lasted longer than most. The last one ran from the beginning of 1990 to the beginning of 1993, just three years compared to the four of the present downturn.

This line of thought may be influencing market research firm IDC, which is predicting "a gradual, uneven rebound" in the IT market starting around now. And there are jobs available for those with good CVs. Operations director at online recruitment agency Totaljobs, Keith Robinson, says, "There are still companies out there wanting to recruit good quality professionals, and they aren't finding it easy. Paradoxically, good quality people are hard to find."

The salaries on offer reflect the bear market, rising on average just 1.6% compared to a year ago. This was still higher than the headline inflation rate, which was 1.1% in May.

Salaries for consultants being recruited by the IT industry are worst hit, falling by 14% compared to a year ago, from £72,000 to less than £62,000. These salaries rocketed during the y2k boom, and have been gradually falling back to more realistic levels since then, with five consecutive quarters of year-on-year decline.

Managers are also being offered less than a year ago - salaries advertised for IT directors are down 3%, for IT managers down 5%, for computer services managers down 4% and for programming managers down 6%.

Mainstream development staff have done rather better. Salaries for system developers are up 3%, and for senior staff with at least three years experience up 6%.

The recession has hit all platform types and regions more or less equally hard. Mainframe jobs fell by slightly less than positions in Unix and Windows environments, but the difference is not significant: they still only account for 8% of all jobs. Moreover, most mainframe sites are now basing their new developments on new wave skills, and demand for traditional mainframe skills such as MVS, Cics and JES all fell by more than the average.

Regionally, the fall in jobs was lowest in Scotland and Northern Ireland - exactly a half - and highest in outer London where there was a fall of nearly three-quarters.

Central London did a little better this time, but overall jobs in London accounted for 32% of the total, down from 37% a year ago. Paul Smith, marketing director at recruitment specialist Harvey Nash Group, reports that "central London has been hit the worst, especially in the banking market" during the current recession.

There were some marked differences between industry sectors. Engineering companies advertised almost the same number of jobs as a year ago, while manufacturing companies were only 18% down. In contrast, jobs offered by media and retail companies fell by more than two-thirds. Software houses also cut back on their recruitment very substantially, with just over 40,000 positions advertised on the Web, down from 137,000 a year ago.

The public sector is the big exception. The picture here is confused because government bodies have been slower to move to the Web for recruitment than other sectors. Web-based public sector advertising fell by a half during the second quarter, but paper-based advertising fell by only 20%, compared to the average for all sectors of more than 80%. Overall, the public sector has been alone in sustaining demand for IT professionals throughout the recession.

Expertise in embedded applications remained a desirable component of a CV during the second quarter. Jobs specifying this skill rose slightly over the quarter, and it is now in 10th place in the league table overall. It is the most wanted skill among electronics companies, and is in second place in both the comms companies and engineering sector league tables.

Mainstream professionals will be more interested in the only other two skills in the top 20 to show an increase in demand from a year ago, SAP and UML. SAP has dramatically returned to favour with advertisers in 2002 after a very quiet 2001, and is in 12th place in the table this time. Its highest position in any quarter in 2001 was 57th. SAP is now the skill most sought after by manufacturing companies, and it is in third place in both the retail and energy sectors.

It is much the same story with UML (Unified Modelling Language), though the growth is less dramatic. Jobs on offer were up 62% on a year ago, raising it 40 places in the table to 19th. UML is most popular among engineering companies, where it is sixth.

Overall, the picture is one of a marked decline in demand for Web application development and page-making skills, in favour of more tried and tested client/server development methods. So larger-than-average declines in demand are found for skills such as HTML (down 77%) and Perl and VBScript (both down 70%). On the comms front, interest in TCP/IP has fallen 80% and in Cisco 79%.

Component-based development is also falling from favour, as shown by DCom (down 86%), Corba (down 70%) and Enterprise Java Beans (down 68%).

The top six places in the table are all occupied by old favourites. SQL has moved up to number one for the first time, while C++, Unix, Oracle, C and Windows NT occupy the next four places. Both Unix and Windows NT are in the top eight in every individual industry sector league table.

Adverts reveal the state of the jobs market
This article is based on information contained in the SSP/Computer Weekly Quarterly Survey of Appointments Data and Trends. The survey analyses advertisements for computer professionals on the Web and in the trade press and the quality national dailies and Sunday papers. It is primarily intended for recruitment agencies and IT managers with a substantial recruitment requirement.

The posts advertised are broken down in the survey into 66 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 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 is £350. This covers four issues, and includes a free copy of a Windows-based software product which allows selection of combinations of region, industry and software skills for a specified job type. For further information contact Bernardine Caine on 01488-72705, or e-mail bernardine.caine@rbi.co.uk.

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