Where should you look for jobs?

The latest SSP quarterly survey of recruitment advertising has some surprises for job-hunters. Nicholas Enticknap reports

The latest SSP quarterly survey of recruitment advertising has some surprises for job-hunters. Nicholas Enticknap reports

The past three months marked a sea change in the pattern of IT recruitment. The Web is now established as another recruitment medium, and during the quarter magazine-based advertising of jobs reduced by nearly half relative to the previous three months, and by more than 60% relative to a year ago. It is now at its lowest level since SSP started surveying the market 15 years ago.

Two pieces of evidence from the SSP/Computer Weekly Quarterly Survey of Appointments Data and Trends lead to these conclusions. First, IT job advertising on the Web in the third quarter fell relative to the second quarter, the first time any quarter has fallen below the level of the preceding one. This suggests that the market has reached a stage of maturity: the third quarter, which contains the summer holiday period, has traditionally produced less advertising and recruitment activity than the second.

The other piece of evidence is a substantial decline in the level of advertising in the magazines, very much greater than we have seen before. There were fewer than 8,000 jobs on offer in all the specialist IT and quality national daily publications - the lowest level ever recorded by SSP. This is a fall of nearly a half on the second quarter, and of close to two-thirds on the same period in 2000.

It is not possible to compare Web-based advertising directly with paper-based advertising, as can be seen from the fact that SSP found no fewer than 275,000 jobs advertised on Web sites over the past three months - well over 30 times as many as in the magazines. But that doesn't mean a job seeker is 30 times more likely to find a job via the Web. There must be a lot of duplication across different sites in the overall total, as the number represents about half of all IT professional jobs in the UK. Nobody would suggest that IT departments are currently replacing their entire workforces twice every year, so the actual numbers need to be treated with caution.

Because the market is now in a period of transition from print- to Web-based recruitment, assessing the overall state of the business environment is difficult. Web-based advertising is up 23% on a year ago, but magazine-based advertising is down by 62%. Anecdotal evidence suggests that the market overall is still in the decline that started with the end of the recruitment to remedy the Y2K date bug problem at the beginning of 1999, but that the rate of decline is nothing like that 62% figure - probably somewhere around 20% is corrrect.

Two job categories are certainly in decline, as they feature in fewer ads than a year ago both on the Web and in the magazines. The first of these is Web specialists - administrators, designers and editors - where demand has plummeted by more than three-quarters over the past year in both media. These jobs now account for just 1% of all jobs, compared to 3% a year ago.

The new and surprising feature is that networking specialists have fallen from favour, ending a run of 10 consecutive quarters where demand increased by more than the average. The number of jobs on offer was down by about 10% more than the average in magazines - they accounted for 8% of all jobs this time compared to 10% a year ago. On the Web, these proportions are halved - 5% a year ago, 4% this time. Much of the reason for this is the pinch being felt by the communications industry since the end of the mobile phone boom.

At the other end of the scale, demand for operators and system programmers rose on the Web by more than for any other category - not far off double. In both cases the numbers are small - about 1% of the total - and there was a substantial decline in the jobs advertised in magazines. Here is one of several indications that mainframe sites turned to the Web for recruitment in some numbers over the past three months.

Other job categories that saw demand rise by more than the average both on the Web and in magazines included database specialists and PC support posts (in the last case, after a long period of decline). Systems staff also have something to cheer about, but demand for mainstream developers and programmers fell relative to the overall market average on both the Web and in the magazines.

Salaries across all job positions in both media rose on average by just 2.9%, the smallest figure for a couple of years and further evidence that it is not a good time for job-hunting (last time the figure was 3.7%). Those at the top of the tree suffered most: consultants saw salaries offered drop on average from nearly £72,000 to just over £68,000. Here is evidence of serious retrenchment by the software industry in the wake of reduced IT department spending.

Geographically, a notable feature of this quarter was a boom in advertising of jobs based outside London, coupled with a marked decline within the capital. All the regions except southern England did better than the market average in both magazines and the Web, while both inner and outer London did significantly worse.

On the Web, the biggest increase was registered in the north west, while for magazines it was in Scotland. The discrepancy is probably because different regions are taking to the Web at different times. Scottish job advertising only accounts for 3% of all Web jobs, but for 5% of magazine-based jobs. In contrast, London accounts for 22% of magazine jobs but for 35% of Web jobs.

Similarly, different industries are making the transition at different times. In the past three months Web-based advertising nearly trebled in manufacturing, utilities and the public sector, and nearly quadrupled in engineering. Computer suppliers nearly doubled their advertising, while the finance sector increased its advertising by three-quarters.

In contrast, both the media and communications company sectors placed less ads than a year ago. The common thread here is that both sectors were enthusiastic early adopters of Internet technology, and both have been hit by recession to a greater extent than other industries.

The public sector was the only area to place more advertising in magazines than a year ago, and despite the big increase this time has still not really taken to the Web. Government agencies now account for 13% of all paper ads - the figure never exceeded 3% during the last century - but only 0.5% of the Web-based jobs.

In terms of platform type, the biggest growth in demand came from sites running the dwindling number of proprietary systems - mainly IBM mainframes and AS/400s. Web-based advertising here almost trebled during the three months. These positions account for roughly one in 20 of all jobs advertised, with Unix sites accounting for four in 20 and Windows-based sites the rest.

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, quality national dailies, and the main IT recruitment Web sites and the Sunday papers. 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 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 an annual subscription costs £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.

Next week: find out what skills are most in demand

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