Salary survey: Hitting the hot spots

Although the number of IT jobs advertised continued to slide in the fourth quarter of 2001, some areas did see improvement....

Although the number of IT jobs advertised continued to slide in the fourth quarter of 2001, some areas did see improvement. Nicholas Enticknap takes a closer look at the trends in the IT recruitment market

IT recruitment remained at a low ebb in the fourth quarter of 2001, according to the SSP/Computer Weekly Quarterly Survey of Appointments Data and Trends. It was a tough period for developers and network specialists, and for IT professionals based in London and the South. Recruitment by the IT industry generally was well down on a year earlier.

But the picture is not all gloom. Database specialists and operations staff enjoyed better fortune. There are signs too that mainframe sites are beginning to recruit again after their pause for breath following completion of their year 2000 compliance projects.

Advertisements for IT professionals posted on the Web declined for the first time in the fourth quarter. The period thus marked a turning point in the transition process from paper- to Web-based advertising. The process is not yet complete: Scotland and Northern Ireland still place some reliance on newspapers and magazines for advertising IT positions, while the public sector is making the change very slowly.

The actual decline in the number of jobs advertised over the quarter on the Web was 8%, bringing the total found by SSP down to about 225,000. In magazines the fall was much more severe, over 80%, with just 3,725 job ads appearing in the trade press and quality daily newspapers, compared to more than 20,000 in the same quarter of 2000.

The real state of the decline in recruitment in the last quarter must be somewhere between the 8% and 80% figures - 20% to 30% seems a reasonable estimate.

Over 2001 as a whole, Web-based advertising rose by more than a third from the 2000 level, while magazine-based advertising fell by more than a half.

The overall decline in recruitment in the fourth quarter masks considerable variation in the fortunes of different groups of professionals. Operations staff saw the greatest growth, with jobs up by two-thirds on the previous year. Software engineers and database specialists also had more options to choose from, with the jobs on offer up by between a quarter and a third respectively.

But demand for people to work in mainstream application development was well down. The number of jobs advertised for developers and for analyst/programmers fell by more than a quarter, those for technical support staff by a fifth and those for programmers by 15%.

Fewer managers were being sought as well, with demand down 16%. But the group to suffer most were networking specialists, who saw the opportunities on offer fall by nearly 40%. These positions accounted for just 3% of the IT jobs advertised in the last quarter, compared to 6% a year earlier and nearly 9% in the fourth quarter of 1999.

This is mainly because specialist communications companies have slashed their requirement for new staff drastically over the past couple of years. These companies stepped up their recruitment more than any other sector in the late 1990s, as they geared up to take advantage of the mobile phone and Internet booms. Now that both of these bubbles have burst, communications companies have reduced their staff requirements to something like 1994 to 1995 levels. Comms companies accounted for 7% of all IT jobs in the past three months, compared to nearly 11% a year ago and more than 12% in the last quarter of 1999.

There is more evidence of the end of the Internet boom in the continuing decline in recruitment of Web specialists. Jobs for Web masters, designers and authors fell by more than three-quarters, and now account for well under 1% of all jobs, compared to 3% a year ago.

Further evidence of the depressed state of the market comes from salary data. The average remuneration offered was up just 2.0% on last year, the smallest annual rise for a very long time. This needs to be set in the context of the headline inflation rate, which has now fallen below 1%.

The top earners, management and system consultants, are now being offered salaries 9% lower than a year ago on average - less than £66,000 compared to more than £72,000 a year ago, and £68,000 in the third quarter. That is a sign of a return to normal market conditions after the frenzied search for specialist expertise at the height of the Y2K boom, when salaries topped £70,000 for the first time.

Software houses have stepped up their recruitment of consultants this time, though, with the jobs on offer up by a third on the final three months of 2000. Demand for hardware service engineers was up by a greater amount, almost double last year's level.

So there are two areas in which IT industry recruitment is increasing again. Overall, the industry reduced its requirement by 13% from a year ago, mainly at the expense of development staff. Offsetting this, the user community increased its advertising by 9%, though this is partly because some sectors were still converting to Web-based advertising during the period.

Engineering companies, for example, quadrupled their Web recruitment advertising for the second consecutive quarter, while both manufacturing companies and utilities made a threefold increase.

The public sector more than doubled its Web-based advertising, but is lagging a long way behind all the other sectors in its use of the new medium. Government bodies accounted for just half of 1% of all Web-based ads, but for nearly one in five of the magazine-based ads.

Regionally, jobs on offer in London and the south fell, while everywhere else they rose. Again this is a sign that the regions outside London took to advertising on the Web later, and had not completed the transition by the last quarter.

Advertising for London-based posts was down by a third. They now comprise 30% of all jobs, which was roughly the level they used to be at before the transition to Web-based advertising started. Job-seekers in the north of England saw the biggest increase in posts advertised, with the east of England, the Midlands, Wales and south-west England offering 40% more positions than a year ago. Jobs in Scotland and Northern Ireland were up by a third, though there are still many organisations in these areas that rely on magazines to attract applicants to their vacancies.

Mainframe sites stepped up their demand by a third compared to last year. This time they accounted for 8% of all jobs on offer, up from 5% in the third quarter and from 3% a year ago. The total is about half the number of jobs offered by Unix sites during the quarter.

How the survey is compiled
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 in the trade press and the quality national daily and Sunday newspapers, and on the World-Wide Web. 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 65 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 hardware type, industry type and region. It also contains 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 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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