Opportunities grow outside the City

As major organisations look to move operations away from London to save money, IT professionals in the regions will get more career options.

Over the past couple of years, London and the South East have seen a resurgent IT jobs market, with some of the highest paid roles available from blue chip international firms.

Permanent IT professionals in the City of London are bringing in an average of £50,500 a year. In the rest of south east England, pay does not reach such heights, but rates are still higher than for comparable jobs elsewhere, and benefits packages are attractive.

However, the City life is not for everyone and there is interesting and rewarding work in the regions of England, Scotland and Wales that can offer a variety of challenges for IT professionals.

The IT market is in a growth cycle, according to Karen Price, chief executive of sector skills council E-Skills UK. "Investment seems to be on an upward curve again, and as ever that will flush out another skills shortage."

Figures from E-Skills UK show that London and the South East have 38% of the IT workforce. This is compared to 3% in the North East, 6% in Scotland and 3% in Wales. The employment patterns will be broadly reflected in the skills shortages - the greatest will be in London and the South East, Price said.

However, things will change. "A lot of firms are looking at relocating. In the public sector, lots of functions are going out of London because of the government's efficiency review. Also, the BBC is relocating a lot of work to Manchester," Price said.

"I can see a redistribution of IT professionals across the UK. At the moment there is a very strong focus on regional investment, a lot in Leeds, Newcastle and Manchester. There is a lot of opportunity for employers to relocate and there are a lot of incentives for them to do so." As they do, you will see IT jobs go with them, Price said.

The Manchester area will benefit from a £225m production relocation from the BBC, including 1,800 staff.

Up to 20,000 civil servants are expected be relocated from Whitehall to create savings to the taxpayer of an estimated £2bn over 15 years. Newcastle, Sheffield, Bristol and Liverpool are among the places that could benefit from relocation proposals from Michael Lyons - a professor conducting an inquiry into government funding and functions - which are backed by Gordon Brown.

Both these relocations will require large numbers of IT support jobs to move with them.

Jon Butterfield, managing director of recruitment firm ReThink, said a lot of IT is being moved outside London. "Public sector employers are looking at replacing consultants from EDS, Accenture and Capgemini - often they are supplied via agencies anyway. Now they are coming under more scrutiny because the cost is so high."

Although the salaries may not be as high as in London, there are other rewards from public sector work in the regions, Butterfield said. "It is still a job for life. There is not as much pay, but other benefits such as holidays and pensions are good and you can often get a better work/life balance through flexible working."

IT professionals trying to find work in the regions should make their first port of call local agencies, Butterfield said. "You can ring up employers individually, but it is difficult enough for us to get through to HR and all they will do is tell you to send in a CV. A recruitment agency should know the local market."

In the private sector, globalisation of the labour force is creating trends for differing IT skills requirements in different parts of the country. As well as offshoring software development, businesses are looking at the concept of low-cost, highly-skilled "onshoring", Price said.

With onshoring, organisations headquartered in London develop the strategy in their City offices, but business analysts and systems architects are based outside the capital.

However, George Molyneaux, research director at recruitment market specialist SSL, warned that the effect of these trends, and in particular relocating the civil service and the BBC, should not be overstated.

"The level of support needed in these centres is not the same as it used to be. I do not think decentralisation is going to make such a big difference," he said.

Overall, the IT jobs market remains driven by the software houses based along the M4 corridor, large consultancies in the South East, and financial institutions based in the major cities, Molyneaux said.

Recruitment in the regions

The Computer Weekly/SSL Survey of Appointments Data and Trends reveals strong demand for IT jobs outside London over the past 18 months. Comparing the first quarter of this year to the first quarter of 2005, web advertising for jobs in the North West increased by 36%, for example.

However, the latest figures from Computer Weekly/SSL to the end of June show a decline compared to the first quarter. The number of jobs advertised on the web and in print in Southern England fell by 7.3% in the second quarter of 2006.

Scotland saw a 14% rise, but all other regions experienced falling demand, the worst being the North East, down by 15.8%, and the North West, down by 12.6%.

George Molyneaux, research director at SSL, which conducted the survey, said most of the drop could be accounted for by a burst in recruitment at the beginning of 2006. Overall, growth in demand outside London has been fairly steady over the past 12 months.


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