The IT jobs market is enjoying a period of unparalleled stability with the number of jobs advertised on the web virtually the same in each of the past four quarters in both the permanent and contract markets. This is the finding from the October 2005 issue of the SSL/Computer Weekly Survey of Appointments Data and Trends.
And it is a view supported by those in the field. Paul Smith, marketing director at recruitment firm Harvey Nash, said, "We see a constant demand for IT skills, and we are confident about the future."
Compared to the same time last year, the number of jobs advertised is up by almost 25% in both permanent and contract markets.
The professionals with the most reason for celebrating are networking specialists. The number of advertised networking vacancies in the permanent market rose by more than 50% in the third quarter, compared to a year ago. They now account for 6% of all IT jobs, compared to 4% in 2004. There was particularly strong demand for network support engineers, with nearly double the number of jobs on offer compared to a year ago. Advertised vacancies for networking staff also rose by 50% in the contract market.
This upturn, which has been sustained throughout 2005, follows a prolonged period where demand for communications specialists was slack. Smith said, "This is because corporates have started to invest heavily in renewal of infrastructure. In the downturn of 2001 and 2002, the first thing they did was to try to do more with less, by holding off unnecessary purchases. That has changed in the past year."
One group of professionals with mixed results in the latest survey are software engineers. Demand in the permanent market rose by substantially less than the average, but in the contract market it rose by 66%.
With systems staff, exactly the opposite is the case. The number of permanent positions on offer rose by more than twice the market average, but in the contract market growth was the same as the average.
Increasing confidence in the stability of the market has led software houses to increase their investment in advertising, and as a result demand for both full-time and part-time consultants is up. The number of permanent positions on offer doubled relative to a year ago, and contract positions trebled.
The salaries on offer reflect this surge in demand, with the average for a full-time consultant now standing at more than £70,000. Freelance consultants can expect to earn more than £50 per hour.
Geographically, there is a surprising east/west divide in this quarter's figures. Both the West Midlands and the North West saw the number of permanent jobs on offer increase by more than 50%. In the North East, however, jobs rose by less than the national average, and in the East Midlands they scarcely rose at all.
Contract jobs are also up by the largest amount in the Midlands and the North West, though the disparity with the east of the country is not so marked.
Jobs in Scotland and Northern Ireland also rose by more than 50%; professionals in these parts of the UK have enjoyed a very good 2005. The London area is not quite so buoyant, but still had better than average growth. Activity in central London was slightly greater than in the suburbs this time, after being significantly less in the first half of the year.
Permanent jobs increased the most in the media sector, with more than half as many again on offer as this time last year. Despite increasing advertising by the same amount in the contract market, the media sector was eclipsed in this regard by both manufacturing and the public sector.
Smith said, "That reflects increased demand for IT modernisation in government. The fact that the demand is for contractors is more to do with a skills shortage than with any lack of demand for permanent staff. Government is still a low payer compared to the private sector. Getting the quality is difficult, so they resort to contractors."
Salaries have continued their slow and steady rise. The average increase in salary offered across all positions was 2.5%, similar to what it has been all year. This was exactly the same as the September figure for both the old-fashioned RPI headline inflation rate and the government's new preferred CPI measure. Rates for contractors have increased by rather more, at an average of 3.8%.
At the top of the tree, the average salary for IT directors has risen to a new high for the third quarter in succession. The third quarter figure was £96,774, up 11% on a year ago. The magic £100,000 threshold is coming ever closer.
New levels are being reached in other major job positions too. Project managers are now being offered an average of £50,000, and developers an average of £40,000. The average programmer's salary has leapt upwards by 10% this time, and is now within shouting distance of £30,000.
The skills most in demand show a swing in favour of .net and away from Java. Microsoft's .net featured in more than half as many advertisements again as this time last year, and is now up to ninth, while ASP also featured in more than half as many jobs again, and is up to 13th. Meanwhile, the biggest growth in demand among the top 25 skills was shown by C#, with the jobs on offer being nearly double those of a year ago. As a result, C# has entered the top 10 for the first time.
In contrast, demand for Java grew by just 4% over the year, and demand for J2EE grew by 9%. However, Smith said these numbers do not reflect his experience, and bids for future contracts are split fairly evenly between .net and Java. "In the public sector they are moving towards .net, especially in education," he said. "In our developments the large volume environments are almost entirely Java, while a lot of smaller ones are in .net".
As far as operating systems go, the impetus is with Linux, which also featured in more than half as many ads again that this time last year, and is now up to 15th. In contrast, demand for Unix skills rose just 13%, and for Solaris experience just 14%. The Windows operating systems also lost ground, with NT and Windows 2000 down to 19th and 20th respectively. Windows XP is down in 30th.
One surprise in the league table is the sudden fall from grace of TCP/IP, which has plummeted nine places to 23rd, after featuring in many less ads this quarter than a year ago. This is its lowest position since it first entered the league table in 1992.
Visual Basic is another skill to plumb new depths: it is out of the top 10 for the first time since 1994, after showing virtually no growth over the past year. Another favourite to show minimal growth is C++, which is now down to seventh. Lower down, Informix has dropped out of the top 100 for the first time.
Demand by sector
Change in demand Q3 05 against Q3 04
Electronics/comms companies +17%
Software houses +34%
Public sector +19%
All jobs +19%
Demand by job title
Change in demand Q3 05 against Q3 04
PC support +26%
Technical support +46%
Software engineering +8%
Web specialists +57%
Demand by region
Change in demand Q3 05 against Q3 04
Inner London +33%
Outer London +30%
Southern England +28%
West & Wales +37%
East Midlands +2%
North West +56%
North East +20%
Scotland & Northern Ireland +53%
Skills most in demand on the web
Q3 05 position (Q3 04 in brackets) , then % change
1 (1) SQL +33
2 (2) C +8%
3 (4) Office +24%
4 (5) Unix +13%
5 (3) Java +4%
6 (7) Oracle +23%
7 (6) C++ +5%
8 (9) SQL Server +43%
9 (10) .net +58%
10 (16) C# +93%
11 (8) Visual Basic +0%
12 (12) XML +42%
13 (15) ASP +53%
14 (11) J2EE +9%
15 (20) Linux +59%
16 (18) HTML +31%
17 (21) Exchange +53%
18 (19) SAP +26%
19 (13) Windows NT -11%
20 (17) Windows 2000 +9%
21 (26) UML +37%
22 (32) Cisco +71%
23 (14) TCP/IP -22%
24 (25) Access +29%
25 (23) Object oriented +21%
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.