Strategic skills high on wanted list

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

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

T he IT jobs market is enjoying its longest period of stability in 20 years. For a year and a half the number of jobs advertised per quarter has varied by less than 10%. Jobs advertised on the web in the first quarter were up 4% on the previous three months, and 6% on a year ago.

This conclusion is based on market research published in the April 2006 issue of the SSL/Computer Weekly Survey of Appointments Data and Trends.

The remarkable degree of consistency in IT job volumes conceals some significant market dynamics. Recruitment is being influenced by moves to place IT development contracts overseas, especially in Asia and the Far East (Computer Weekly, 2 May). The demand is for mainstream development staff and this is further stimulating demand for high-calibre staff, such as managers capable of masterminding projects taking place in two or more countries.

The number of jobs on offer to project managers rose on the web, relative to the same quarter last year, by more than five times the market average. “At the high end, there is substantial growth,” says Paul Smith, group marketing director at Harvey Nash, an agency that specialises in this area.

While development jobs are increasingly being migrated overseas, strategic knowledge of the business is staying in-house. This is demonstrated by a surge in demand for business analysts. The jobs on offer in this category have risen by 19%, more than three times the market average, while demand for senior analysts is up by an even larger amount, nearly 33% more than a year ago.

“There is a clear demand at supervisory level for business skills as well as IT skills,” says Smith.

Employers are turning to the contract market for these business skills as well. Demand for freelance project managers was up by 41%, and for senior business analysts by 40%, with average rates of £63 per hour, up 11% on a year ago.

Despite the trend towards outsourcing overseas, mainstream developers saw a healthy increase in demand of 20% on the web, three times the overall market average.

In the contract market, however, jobs on offer rose by just 10%, a little less than the market average. Rates remain high in this area – for those who can find positions – with all kinds of freelance developers being offered more than double the rates of permanent staff. The average rate offered over the quarter was £60 an hour for senior developers, £46 for mainstream developers, £37 for analyst/programmers and £33 for programmers.

The web is not as effective in recruiting high flyers as it is with mainstream jobs, so employers are turning more to magazine-based advertising. Management positions account for about 20% of all jobs here, compared with just 5% of jobs on the web.

“The more senior you get, the less use of the web is made. The web still has a place, but it is not the be all and end all of finding a job or a candidate,” says Smith.

Paper-based advertising surged in the first quarter, as it did in the last quarter of 2005, with the number of positions on offer up by 66% on a year ago, double that of two years ago and treble the rate of three years ago.

The software engineers had most to cheer about. On the web, jobs were up by 21%, three times the market average. This is a major change from the last quarter of 2005, when jobs declined slightly. In the contract market demand rose by twice the market average. In magazines, the number of jobs on offer quadrupled relative to a year ago.

Regionally, there was a noticeable decline in the number of jobs on offer in central London. On the web, both permanent and freelance jobs fell by 8%. This is a consequence of decentralisation – by both industry and government – to regional areas.

Permanent jobs increased on the web most in Wales and the West, the Midlands and the North. Contractors also found good growth in Wales and the West. Jobs for freelancers surged most in Scotland and Northern Ireland, where the number of permanent jobs offered remained static.

The median increase in salary offered to permanent staff was 2.6% – similar to the rate that prevailed throughout most of 2005. This is a little above the government’s CPI inflation rate figure, which in February stood at 2.0%. Contractors fared better: the median increase here was 5.3%.

Consultants fared best among permanent staff, with salaries offered up 11% on a year ago. Project managers could expect to be 10% better off.

There was no major change in the skills in demand during the last quarter. Indeed, the first 13 skills in the league table are exactly the same as they were in the fourth quarter of 2005.

Compared to a year ago, there has been some slight movement, because new-wave skills such as .net, C# and ASP were still establishing themselves in early 2005, at the expense of what we must now consider legacy skills such as Visual Basic.

C# had the biggest growth of any top 25 skill once again this time, with more than half as many jobs again on offer. ASP was next, with 42% growth on a year ago.

The Java world did not show the same growth, but is still healthy. Interest in Java itself increased by more than twice the market average, while demand for Javascript expertise rose by 34%, taking it back into the top 25 for the first time in two years.

The shift from proprietary to open source continues in the Unix world. Demand for Unix itself and for the three main proprietary variants – Solaris, AIX and HP/UX – all fell relative to a year ago, while the requirement for Linux skills increased by 25%. The pace of change is slow, though, and there are still more than twice as many Unix jobs as Linux jobs on offer.

Lower down the table, demand for expertise in Flash rose by more than 75%, taking it into the top 50 skills for the first time at number 47. Another skill more in demand than ever before is Photoshop, which is now just five places outside the top 50.

There was an increase in demand over the quarter for IBM mainframe database skills. The requirement for IMS expertise trebled, while demand for DB2 also rose, though by a more modest amount – about 20%. Cobol showed similar growth, moving back into the top 100 at 88th. This is probably a temporary situation, and in any case the number of jobs available requiring these legacy skills is small.

Click here for survey figures >>

How the survey is conducted

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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