Where are all the IT jobs?

The dotcom shake-out has driven IT recruitment away from e-business and the Web and back towards more conventional...

The dotcom shake-out has driven IT recruitment away from e-business and the Web and back towards more conventional client/server-based skills. Nicholas Enticknap takes a closer look at the skills now being sought

Embedded applications are attracting unprecedented levels of interest at present, according to the SSP/Computer Weekly Quarterly Survey of Appointments Data and Trends. The momentum has swung away from e-business, with the skills needed for the creation of Web pages and e-business applications fast falling from favour.

Professionals with expertise in embedded applications were increasingly sought after during 2001, with twice the number of jobs on offer on the Web in the fourth quarter as in the same period the previous year. Over 2001 as a whole demand was three times as great as in 2000.

Electronics, engineering and communications companies are leading the way: in all three of these sector league tables embedded skills are in second place. In the biggest sector, software houses, embedded skills are up to 13th place.

As a result, this skill has moved up the overall league table from 24th a year ago to 21st in the first quarter of 2001, then up to 17th, then 14th, and finally in the last quarter to 11th. It is easily the skill moving the fastest upwards in the top 20: the only other one to come near is Progress, which appeared in half as many ads again this time as it did a year ago. Indeed, only three other top 20 skills featured more strongly than a year ago - Office and Exchange, which both saw demand up by a quarter, and XML, which appeared in a handful more ads than a year ago.

So 15 of the top 20 skills appeared in less Web ads than a year ago, including nine of the top 10. This is in the context of a small decline, 8%, in the overall number of jobs advertised.

The downward movers included all the Web-based skills except XML, as users take stock following the bursting of the dotcom bubble. In most cases, the decline is much greater than the market average. Demand for Java, for example, fell 43%, for HTML 49%, and for Javascript 50%. ASP fell 42% and Perl 55%, and both have lost their places in the top 20 as a result. Further down the table, demand for ActiveX, Enterprise Java Beans, servlets and VBScript expertise all fell by between a quarter and a half.

There is a clear indication here that both users and the IT industry are scaling back on their development of Web-based products and applications, after the e-frenzy around the turn of the millennium.

The emphasis is now swinging back to more conventional client/server-based development of the type prevalent before Web-based computing started to gather momentum in the mid-1990s. Demand for these skills has fallen by a much smaller amount than for the Web-based skills.

Windows NT, the symbol of this era, is down just 7% this time, while conventional C is down 8% - half as much as its object-oriented sister. Interest in SQL has also fallen by 8%, while Oracle is down 10% and SQL Server 13%.

The table continues to demonstrate Microsoft's grip on the IT industry. Office is, as we have seen, one of the few upwards movers, and is four places higher than a year ago at seventh, its highest ever position. Financial companies are particularly keen: in this sector league table it is third. In the much smaller public sector area, where Microsoft products have always been popular, it is second. The database element of Office, Access, is also doing better than average in 16th place overall.

Exchange has made its way into the top 20 this time after a 29% rise in demand. Visual Basic remains in fifth place and SQL Server in 10th, while Windows NT is up a place on a year ago to eighth.

The replacement product, Windows 2000, is climbing the table quickly after featuring in well over three times the number of ads of a year ago, and has now made it into the top 25. It is up to 10th in the public sector table, where NT is third. Demand for knowledge of Microsoft's .net e-development strategy is steadily increasing, despite the general lack of interest in Web-based development, and this is now up to 65th in the table.

At the very top of the table there is a change since the third quarter, with C++ regaining the lead it held at the beginning of the year. This is largely because of IT industry enthusiasm: it was top in all three IT industry sector tables. In the user sectors it features less prominently: it was top among engineering companies, but in the retail, financial, manufacturing and energy sectors, Visual Basic is more in favour.

C++ was supplanted at the top of the overall table by Unix in the second and third quarters of 2001, but interest in the operating system fell by 22% in the fourth quarter and it has dropped two places to third. Unix remains the skill most in demand in the financial sector, featuring in two-and-a-half times as many ads as Windows NT, and well over 10 times as many as MVS.

Linux is doing proportionately better than Unix in the overall table, with demand down just 6%. It is down in 32nd place, however, after featuring in fewer ads than Windows 2000 in the fourth quarter, and in less than a quarter of the ads specifying NT.

SQL is now in second place overall, and is the most popular skill of all in the media, retail and energy sectors.

Mainframe sites increased their recruitment by more than Unix and Windows shops in the fourth quarter, and this is reflected in the table. Demand for experience of Cobol, DB2 and MVS is up by nearly a half in all three cases from a year ago, with Cobol, the highest ranked mainframe skill, up 10 places to 35th.

IBM's Cics transaction processing utility featured in 78% more ads than a year ago, and is up 30 places to 53rd as a result. Lower down the table, interest in JCL more than doubled. Much of this interest in mainframe skills is concentrated in the financial sector, which accounts for 40% of all DB2 jobs and 37% of MVS jobs.

Among other proprietary systems, demand for the iSeries (as the AS/400 is now branded) RPG400 programming language trebled. It features strongly in the retail (eighth place) and manufacturing (10th) sector tables. Interest in Vax systems - which were manufactured by Digital Equipment, now part of Compaq - however continued to decline, with VMS now down in 67th place.

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 for 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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