The IT recruitment market is in good shape. The number of jobs on offer is slowly but surely increasing, and salaries and contract rates are also rising. "The overall message is that there are plenty of jobs," says Paul Smith, group marketing director at recruitment firm Harvey Nash.
The number of jobs advertised on the web in the second quarter of 2005 was well over half as much again as a year ago, according to the latest SSL/Computer Weekly Survey of Appointments Data and Trends. That is a big increase, but most of it took place in the third and fourth quarters of 2004. Relative to the first quarter of 2005, the second quarter figure was only 3% up; indeed, the total number of jobs advertised in each of the past three quarters has been the same.
Looking further into the past, this quarter's figure is at roughly the same level as three years ago, but is still only a third of the level of a year before that, the second quarter of 2001. That illustrates how dramatically the market plummeted between 2001 and 2002, and how far there is still to go before we get back to the 2001 level.
In the contract market the position over the past three quarters has remained much the same. The number of jobs advertised this time was virtually double that of a year ago, but again most of the market growth came in the third and fourth quarters of 2004.
The average increase in salary across all 55 job types was 2.8%, exactly the same as in the first quarter, and almost the same as the headline inflation rate, which stood at 2.9% in both May and June.
This single growth metric conceals significant variations. Smith says, "Most of the increase is going to the quality end - highly skilled managers and highly skilled technicians. Companies are frequently making pay rises on merit, rather than across the board."
Professionals without the skills and expertise in demand are having difficulty earning as much as they did three years ago. One reason for this is that many routine development jobs are now outsourced to Asia. "Companies are using Vietnam and India as a factory," says Smith. "The developer market is the loser in that."
IT directors are naturally enough at the top end of the pay scale, and for the second quarter in succession the average salary offered to them was at a new high. The figure this time was £96,271.
With contractors, the average increase in rates was a slightly lower at 2.5%. Rates for developers, however, increased by significantly more, upwards of 10%. Rates here are typically well over double that paid to permanent staff. For example, the average salary for a mainstream developer is just over £39,000; the average contract rate for the same job is £47 an hour, which translates to nearly £83,000 a year.
Among permanent staff, the biggest increase in demand was for networking specialists, with more than twice as many jobs available as a year ago. There were also higher than average increases for systems staff and for technical support professionals. These three areas also showed the biggest growth in the first quarter.
In the contract market too there was a big increase in demand for networking staff. Demand for systems people rose by only a little more than the average, but this was enough to make them the biggest single group, just above developers, accounting for 31% of all contract jobs advertised.
Geographically, the jobs on offer to permanent staff rose by well above the average in outer London, but rose by less than a quarter in the centre of the capital. The picture is similar in contract positions. The discrepancy is hard to explain, especially as recruitment by the financial sector was buoyant (up 85% on a year ago). It seems likely to be part of a trend, however, as the pattern has been maintained now for two consecutive quarters.
Also, for the second quarter in succession, jobs available for both permanent and freelance professionals more than doubled in Scotland and Northern Ireland.
In both the contract and permanent staff markets there was a notable upwards surge in demand for people with mainframe and other proprietary skills. In both markets the number of jobs available more than doubled.
These types of jobs still account for well under 10% of both markets, so the surge has made little impact on the software skills league table. Indeed, the trend is firmly in the opposite direction. A landmark in IT development history was reached during the quarter as Cobol fell out of the top 100 skills for the first time.
Younger readers may not have heard of Cobol, and most will be unfamiliar with it. More mature readers will recall that Cobol was the most valuable development skill of all throughout the 1970s and 1980s. It was still number one in SSL's skills league table as recently as 1991.
Cobol lost its pre-eminence during the client/server revolution of the early 1990s, but remained popular, and was still 14th in the skills league table only five years ago. Since then it has been rapidly falling from favour.
Emphasising this passing of the old world, two other prominent third-generation languages, Fortran and Pascal, both fell out of the skills league table this quarter.
At the top end of the table there has been remarkably little change. The adoption of Microsoft .net development technology continues to increase, with .net consolidating its place (it is in 10th position, the place it has held in each of the past four quarters) and C# rising to a new high of 11th this time. C# features in four times as many ads as a year ago, and .net in well over three times as many. Active Server Pages is also featuring strongly, and is now up to 14th.
In contrast, Java features in only 33%more job adverts than a year ago, an increase that is well below the market average.
More surprisingly, straightforward C (without suffix) has continued its steady rise back up the league table and is now third, its highest position for eight years. Possibly this is a reflection of its popularity with embedded system developers.
Linux is also consolidating its position in the lower reaches of the top 20, at the expense of Unix and Solaris. The latter is 26th this time, the first time it has been outside the top 25 since the beginning of 2000. Unix has fallen four places; it was briefly top of the table at this time last year.
The SSL survey suggests that Linux is also hurting Windows. Both Windows NT and Windows 2000 saw growth in demand of half the market average, and both have fallen well down the league table as a result.
How the survey is conducted
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 Sundays. It is primarily intended for recruitment agencies and CIOs with a substantial recruitment requirement.
The posts advertised are broken down in the survey into 55 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 on CD, which allows selection of combinations of region, industry and software skills for a specified job type. Readers can order it at www.salaryservices.co.uk.