Salary survey shows demand for web specialists

Nicholas Enticknap analyses the latest SSL/Computer Weekly salary survey to discover the roles, skills and areas that offer the richest pickings

The number of permanent IT jobs advertised on the web during the fourth quarter of 2006 was much the same as it had been in the previous eight quarters. The number of contractor positions also remained static. But this apparently stable picture conceals some major variations.

This conclusion is based on market research published in the latest issue of the SSL/Computer Weekly Survey of Appointments Data and Trends.

It was a surprisingly good quarter for developers and programmers, and for people job-hunting in London. But times were bad for software engineers and networking specialists, and for people in the rest of England and Wales. User organisations significantly increased their recruitment, while the IT industry cut back substantially.

There was a significant fall in the number of jobs advertised in magazines in the last quarter, the first year-on-year decline in this area since 2003. These jobs, mainly aimed at senior staff, accounted for just 4% of all the advertised positions analysed by SSL.

However, jobs advertised on the web over the past three months were up by a small amount on a year ago. Junior staff, with salaries averaging about £35,000 a year did rather better than senior staff, which is a major change from the picture in the third quarter.

According to Harvey Nash Group marketing director Paul Smith, this is partly because junior staff are becoming harder to find, as the good quality workers who fell out of employment during the last recession have now found jobs again.

The biggest increase in demand was for web specialists, where the jobs on offer rose a massive 37%. This is possibly a sign that some companies are beginning to gear up for Vista. The numbers involved are small, however, with these professionals accounting for just 1% of the total market.

Posts advertised for mainstream staff - analysts, developers, programmers and database specialists - all increased over the year by more than the market average. The big losers were software engineers, where posts on offer fell by 15%, and networking professionals where jobs advertised fell by 17%. The fall in demand for software engineers is one of the major changes over the past three months - in the third quarter of 2006 they registered the biggest growth.

Going down to specific job title detail, there were noteworthy increases in demand for project managers (up 23%), business analysts (up 42%) and system architects (up 15%).

Regionally, the jobs on offer grew most in central London (up 18%). This is in stark contrast to the overall employment position in the capital, where unemployment is at an unusually high level. The only other areas to show any increase were outer London, Scotland and Northern Ireland. The worst affected region was the Midlands, where jobs fell by more than 10%.

Jobs offered by employers in the finance, retail, media and manufacturing sectors were all up the biggest increase was in manufacturing, followed closely by retail, both of which increased advertising by about 30%.

All user organisations combined increased their advertising relative to the same period in 2005, despite the fact that public sector advertising was static this time. This is evidence that the huge NHS contract, which has had a disproportionate effect on the figures for the past couple of years, is now moving from a development to an implementation phase.

In contrast, the IT industry slackened its advertising, especially software houses, where recruitment fell by 6%. It is contrary to what one would expect at a time when the industry was gearing up for a major new Microsoft operating system release.

The explanation, according to Smith, is that Microsoft is encouraging its partners to use overseas development agencies to reduce costs and get products to market more quickly. User organisations are as yet turning to offshore development rather less.

Salaries on offer for permanent staff were up by an average of 1.9% across all job positions. Junior staff did rather better (up 2.9%) than seniors (up 0.4%), although IT managers proved an exception, with advertised salaries up by no less than 17%.

All these figures except the last are well below the current average UK earnings inflation across all industries of 3.6%, and are also below price inflation of 3.0%, according to the government's latest CPI figure. Offshoring is having an effect in holding salaries down.

The self-employed did marginally worse still, where the average rate increase over a year ago was just 1.0%. Here senior staff did do better, with an average 4.6% increase, while rates for junior staff did not rise at all.

The biggest increase in demand for contractors was again among web specialists. The biggest increase in the other job categories was for developers, at 5%.

Software engineers suffered a poor three months in this market too, with jobs advertised down 16%. But demand for project managers and business analysts was again brisk, with increases of 12% and 22% respectively.

Regionally, the picture for contractors was quite different than for permanent staff. There was a big decline in inner London, with opportunities falling by more than quarter, while the biggest growth area was the East Midlands. Software houses again cut back most, with contract jobs down 14%.

As far as software skills are concerned, the league table looks very much the same as it did a year ago, and indeed the top six places are exactly the same.

Two symbolically significant changes are the rise of C# to seventh, displacing Unix, and of ASP to 11th, displacing Visual Basic. The latter is now in its lowest position in the table for 13 years, while Unix has fallen to its lowest position since the table was launched in 1990.

The technology that underlay the client/server revolution of the past decade is now fast falling from favour. Other skills which enjoyed their heyday at the same time are also much less sought after now, including Oracle, which has nonetheless remained in sixth place.

The biggest increase in demand for any top 25 skill was registered by SAP, a skill which has traditionally been subject to large fluctuations in demand. Otherwise, the fastest upwards movers were Javascript, Focus, C#, XML and Linux.

Demand for Prince expertise soared by more than any of these, and it has now risen to its highest ever position of 30th. Lower down the table, demand for PHP experience nearly doubled, and it rose 12 places to 36th.

Falls in demand of more than 10% were registered by C++ as people move to C#, Embedded (another skill which shows wide variation in demand) and Visual Basic.

This article is based on information from the SSL/Computer Weekly Quarterly Survey of Appointments Data and Trends.

The survey analyses ads for IT professionals on the web, in the trade press and the quality national dailies and Sundays. It is intended primarily for recruitment agencies and CIOs with a substantial recruitment requirement.

The posts are broken down into 55 categories, which include details of the number of posts advertised and the average and median national salaries offered for the past five quarters.

The survey provides further analyses within each job category by platform type, industry sector and regional location. It also gives a breakdown of the technical skills most in demand.

The survey costs £250 per issue or £350 for an annual subscription. This covers four issues and includes a free software program which allows selection of combinations of region, industry and software skills for specified job types. You can order it at

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