Standing out in the skills crowd

The rising stars in skills requirements are Web-based and object-oriented, with Java the strongest contender. But C++ remains the...

The rising stars in skills requirements are Web-based and object-oriented, with Java the strongest contender. But C++ remains the one that stands applicants in the best stead, writes Nicholas Enticknap.

The rising stars in skills requirements are Web-based and object-oriented, with Java the strongest contender. But C++ remains the one that stands applicants in the best stead, writes Nicholas Enticknap

The skills league table that appears in the latest issue of the quarterly SSP/ Computer Weekly Survey of Appointments Data and Trends provides proof - as if any were needed - of the breakneck pace of change within the IT industry.

Six new entrants appeared in the top 25 of the table, of which three - XML, Corba and Wap - didn't feature at all a year ago, while another, Solaris, also appears in the top 25 for the first time. The other two newcomers, Ada and Delphi, have both been in and out of the chart on several occasions over the past few years.

The six skills that these new kids on the block have strong-armed off the table are Novell, RPG400, SAP, Lotus Notes, MVS and DB2.

Predictably enough, demand for Web-based skills continues to grow apace, while job opportunities requiring all other types of skill declined substantially during the second quarter.

Indeed, Java/Internet development has taken over from Windows NT development as the main priority during the past three months.

But the most important development is undoubtedly the rise of Java to second in the skills league table. It was specified in over 4,000 jobs during April, May and June, 70% more than in the same period in 1999. Only C++ stands a job applicant in better stead.

Generic Internet expertise has grown in popularity even faster than Java, with demand running at treble last year's level. As a result, it has shot up the league table to lie just behind Java, 18 places higher than a year ago.

The third of the Web-based skills, HTML, is also rapidly increasing in popularity, with demand running at more than twice last year's level. HTML featured in over 2,000 ads.

Only just behind is XML, which entered the table for the first time last quarter. This skill was specified in over 900 ads, enough for 12th position in the league table.

Much of this demand for Web-based expertise is fuelled by the software industry. Java was actually top in this sector's league table over the quarter for the first time. Software houses accounted for just under two-thirds of all Java jobs on offer, and over two-thirds of all HTML and XML jobs.

TCP/IP rose to the top of the comms company league table for the first time. Overall, demand for TCP/IP declined 15%, well under the overall 54% drop, and as a result it rose six places up the table to 11th position.

Among user sectors, media and publishing businesses are the most enthusiastic convert to the Web-based world. In this sector's league table, Java is first, Internet second and HTML third, while XML has now entered the table and is in eighth place for the three months.

No other sector has any of the Web-based skills at the top. In the financial sector, Java is second, Internet sixth and HTML 10th. The engineering sector is relatively backward, with only six Java jobs offered over the quarter. Here Ada and Pascal are still more important, featuring in 40 and 36 ads respectively.

The Web-based skills are four out of only eight skills in the top 25 which appeared in more ads this year than last. Two of the others are along with XML new entrants to the table this year. The arrival of Corba, which is 14th this time, underlines the growing trend among IT sites towards object-oriented development and away from use of conventional procedural programming languages.

Generic object-oriented programming expertise was required for 900 job positions, which puts it in 13th place, 10 places higher than a year ago. C++ remains at the top of the overall table, and is also top in all three IT sector league tables. With Java in second place, there are now two object-oriented languages at the top of the overall table. Visual Basic is the highest placed of the more conventional languages, but its star is on the wane: demand dropped by more than a half compared to last year, and it has fallen three places in the table to eighth.

The other new entrant, Wap, underlines the growing importance of mobile and pervasive computing. Around 350 job positions called for expertise in this area, which puts it in 25th place in the table.

Of the other two skills where demand has increased relative to last year, Solaris demand rose by more than half to 500 jobs, enough for a 23 place rise in the table to 18th. This is in a context where Unix itself featured in only half the number of ads a year ago, though it remains in fourth place. The only other Unix variant to appear in the table, AIX, fell by even more, appearing in just over 100 jobs which puts it in 44th place.

Ada also rose in popularity, featuring in 400 jobs over the three months, 44% up on a year ago. As we have seen, Ada remains popular in engineering companies, and is also favoured by the IT hardware industry - 15% of all Ada jobs were advertised by computer suppliers and another 19% by comms companies.

The skills that have fallen most dramatically down the table are those used in proprietary mainframe and midrange sites. Cobol appeared in just 350 ads this time, down from nearly 3,000 a year ago, and as a result it has dropped out of the top 20 for the first time ever.

The two major IBM mainframe utilities, CICS and DB2, have fallen from popularity by an even greater amount. Both appeared in around 150 ads this time, and have fallen to 39th and 36th places respectively. Clearly, IBM mainframe sites have deserted traditional development methods almost entirely in favour of newer technologies.

The same can be said of IBM mid-range sites: RPG400 demand fell 85%, and this skill is now 32nd. Also for DEC VAX sites: VMS featured in 140 ads, a quarter of the number a year ago. And also of ICL mainframe sites: VME appeared in just 24 ads this time, down 92%.

Many more recently fashionable skills are also falling from favour. Demand for Windows NT experience fell by much more than the average, 61%, and as a result it has slipped in the table from second to fifth. The decline in popularity is most marked in the financial sector - here it fell from first to fifth.

Windows 2000 has entered the table for the first time this time, after its launch in February. It appeared in 150 ads - adding that total to Windows NT's 2,868 would not affect the latter's position in the table.

Oracle too is on a clear downward trend. Demand fell by nearly two-thirds relative to the second quarter last year, when it was at the top of the table. It is now down to sixth.

SSP Survey

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 dailies and Sundays. 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 63 job categories. Within each 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 £225, and for an annual subscription £325. This covers four issues, and includes a free copy of a Windows-based software product that allows a selection of combinations of region, industry and software skills for a specified job type.

For further details write to Julie McInally, Floor 12, Quadrant House, The Quadrant, Sutton, Surrey SM2 5AS.

Table 1: Skills most in demand over the past quarter

2Q99 jobs on offer   change
Pos Pos Skill in 2Q00 in 2Q99 2Q00 cf 2Q99
1 3 C++ 4,401 6,849 -36%
2 10 Java 4,088 2,410 +70%
3 21 Internet 3,431 1,149 +199%
4 4 Unix 3,208 6,137 -48%
5 2 Windows NT 2,868 7,277 -61%
6 1 Oracle 2,616 7,295 -64%
7 6 SQL 2,563 5,069 -49%
8 5 Visual Basic 2,362 5,070 -53%
9 7 C 2,313 4,621 -50%
10 25 HTML 2,077 982 +112%
11 17 TCP/IP 1,169 1,374 -15%
12   s XML 934 0 N/A
13 23 Object-oriented 912 1,123 -19%
14   CORBA 727 0 N/A
15 24 LAN 624 1,096 -43%
16 9 Windows 622 2,921 -79%
17 26 WAN 606 961 -37%
18 41 Solaris 518 332 +56%
19 12 Sybase 494 1,675 -71%
20 45 Ada 402 280 +44%
21 29 Delphi 396 784 -49%
22 30 Progress 381 645 -41%
23 19 Access 377 1,198 -69%
24 8 Cobol 351 2,930 -88%
25   Wap 346 0 N/A
all jobs     25,276 46,916 -46%

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