Salaries and prospects: Consultants sitting pretty

Systems consultants are in the money with big pay rises contrasting with steady growth elsewhere. Nicholas Enticknap analyses the latest SSL/ Computer Weekly salary survey to discover the roles, skills and areas that offer the richest pickings


Systems consultants are in the money with big pay rises contrasting with steady growth elsewhere. Nicholas Enticknap analyses the latest SSL/Computer Weekly salary survey to discover the roles, skills and areas that offer the richest pickings.

The mini-boom in the IT recruitment market is over. Jobs for IT professionals advertised on the web in the fourth quarter of 2005 fell relative to the same quarter of 2004, the first decline for two years after a period of steady, if unspectacular, growth. This is the major finding from the January 2006 issue of the SSL/Computer Weekly Survey of Appointments Data and Trends.

The decline was small - just 6%. Moreover, the fourth quarter of 2004 was the best of the past three years, so there is no need for despondency.

According to Harvey Nash group marketing director Paul Smith, we are in for a period of gentle growth, with minor peaks and troughs. Smith believes the current small trough is a temporary blip. "At the back end of 2004 there was a sudden release of pent-up demand. That demand has now been filled, and we are into a period of maturity."

One sign of that maturity is a sudden increase in the number of jobs advertised in magazines in the fourth quarter. They rose by 66%, to reach their highest level in four years. According to Smith this is because jobs are now being filled by people moving from one employer to another, rather than coming out of unemployment.

"The smallest recruitment companies, without sophisticated databases, are now struggling to find candidates, so they have no choice but to advertise," he says.

The surge in magazine advertising was fuelled by a trebling of demand for systems and management consultants. The extra demand here accounted for well over half the total additional jobs advertised.

The increased demand for consultants is reflected in a substantial increase in the salaries offered to them. The average consultant salary was up 19%, which compares with an overall market rise across all job positions of 4.1%. That itself was the highest increase of 2005, double the current 2.0% inflation rate as measured by the government's preferred CPI index. Salaries offered to contract staff rose on average by a slightly higher 4.9%.

The number of contract jobs advertised rose slightly over the quarter, by 7%. The biggest growth areas were outside England, with contract positions in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland rising by about 25% relative to last year. In contrast, there was a small decline in London.

Again, there was substantially increased demand for consultants, with the number of positions advertised rising 400% relative to the year before.

Demand for freelance software engineers rose by 50%, the second consecutive substantial rise. This is encouraging for those currently out of employment, as the number of permanent software engineering jobs available fell over the quarter.

Other significant increases in contract posts available benefited systems staff (up 19%), web specialists (up 17%) and networking staff (up 16%).

On the web, advertising declined more or less evenly across regions and across industry sectors. Those living on the west side of the country did best during the quarter, with jobs in the West and Wales up 6%, in the West Midlands up 18% and in the North West up 24%. Jobs offered in Scotland and Northern Ireland rose by 20%. There was a marked decline in central London, with jobs falling by 19%.

Among industry sectors, the only area to register double-digit growth was media, where the number of jobs rose 19%.

It was networking staff who fared best for permanent jobs advertised on the web, as the choice for them rose by 34%. The only other significant increases here were, again, for web specialists (19%) and systems staff (14%).

Demand for mainstream development staff fell: the jobs offered to systems developers, analyst/programmers, programmers and software engineers were all down 2%, while PC support posts fell 13%.

According to Smith, "The bottom end of the market has maybe slowed a bit. Project managers and system architects do not have a problem; there are plenty of jobs out there."

The most noticeable finding in the league table of skills in demand is the steady decline of interest in Unix. In the fourth quarter of 2005, Unix was down to seventh place, its lowest position for four and a half years. Unix was at the top of the table just 18 months ago.

Solaris is slowly falling from favour too. It is down to 30th, its lowest position for six years. This represents not so much a decline in the popularity of Unix as an increase in preference for the open source alternative.

Demand for both Unix and Solaris fell relative to a year ago, while interest in Linux, now in 16th place, rose by 18%. According to Smith, "There is definitely a move in the direction of Linux, but it is not huge. People are still waiting to see how other people get on with it."

In the Microsoft world, Windows XP made its bow in the top 25 in the fourth quarter, taking the place of Windows NT, which has left the top 25 for the first time in 11 years. The Windows 2000 operating system is in 22nd, but demand is down by 22% relative to a year ago. This is partly because advertisers are focusing more now on development environments than operating systems. The real battle is between .net and Java, rather than between Microsoft and Unix.

On the evidence of the SSL figures for the fourth quarter, .net is steadily gaining ground. .net itself was in ninth place and its sister programming language C# in 10th, with both showing significant growth: C# indeed had the biggest growth of any skill in the top 25.

Java itself is still above both of them, with J2EE not far behind, but there was only single-digit growth in demand for expertise in either. Elsewhere, the trend that catches the eye is the increase in interest in communication skills.

In the third quarter demand for TCP/IP expertise plunged dramatically. The figures for the fourth quarter show that this was a temporary blip: at the end of the year it was almost the same as a year earlier.

Expertise in the nuts and bolts of networking is much in demand. Cisco returned to the top 20 for the first time in four years, and was the only skill other than C# to feature in more than half as many ads again as a year ago.

Further down the table, the OSPF internet routing protocol featured in three times as many ads as a year ago, and is now in its highest ever position, at 61st.

There is evidence of increasing interest in mixed voice/data communications. VoIP doubled in popularity in the fourth quarter, rising to number 47.

Another big mover in the lower reaches of the table was SAS business intelligence software. Demand more than doubled, and SAS moved up 11 places to 33rd.

How average salaries have risen across the industry

Job title; Average salaryoffered Q4 05; Average salary offered Q4 04; Percentage change

IT director  - £91,040  - £89,288 - +2%

Management/systems consultant  - £69,246  - £58,125  - +19%

Projects manager  - £50,158  - £46,964  - +7%

Systems developer -  £39,354 -  £37,273  - +6%

Database administrator -  £37,721 -  £36,845  - +2%

Systems administrator -  £34,213  - £33,528  - +2%

Systems analyst  - £33,490  - £31,777  - +5%

Web designer  - £31,084  - £31,114  - 0%

Programmer  - £28,762  - £26,665  - +12%

Operator  - £24,205  - £23,673  - +2%

PC support  - £21,046  - £20,235  - +4%

All jobs +4%


Demand by IT skill

Skills most in demand on the web

Q4 05  - Q4 04  - skill  - % change

1 -  1  - SQL  - +10%

2  - 5  - C  - +35%

3  - 2  - Office  - +11%

4  - 3  - Java  - +6%

5  - 6  - C++  - +13%

6  - 7  - Oracle  - -1%

7  - 4  - Unix  - -8%

8  - 9  - SQL Server  - +16%

9  - 10  - .net  - +30%

10  - 15  - C#  - +73%

11  - 8  - Visual Basic  - +2%

12  - 16  - ASP  - +38%

13  - 12  - XML  - +6%

14  - 11  - J2EE  - +4%

15  - 13  - TCP/IP  - -1%

16  - 20  - Linux  - +18%

17  - 19  - HTML  - +9%

18  - 28  - Cisco  - +56%

19  - 17  - SAP  - -11%

20  - 22  - Embedded  - +16%

21  - 21  - Exchange  - +9%

22  - 18  - Windows 2000  - -22%

23  - -  - Windows XP  - -

24  - 24  - UML  - +4%

25  - 26  - Object oriented  - +7%

All jobs -6%

Demand by job title

Change in demand for jobs on the web Q4 05

Management -3%

Systems +14%

Development -2%

Programmers -2%

PC support -13%

Technical support -1%

Software engineering -2%

Database 0%

Networking +34%

Operations -27%

Web specialists +19%

All jobs -6%

Demand by region

Change in demand by region on the web Q4 05

Inner London -19%

Outer London +5%

Southern England 0%

West & Wales +6%

East Midlands -2%

West Midlands +18%

North West +24%

North East -9%

Scotland & Northern Ireland +20%

All jobs -6%

Demand by sector

Change in demand by industry sector on the web Q4 05

Electronics/comms companies +4%

Software houses +5%

Banking/finance +6%

Distribution/retail -4%

Media/publishing +19%

Manufacturing -8%

Public sector -1%

All jobs -6%


How the survey is conducted

This article is based on information contained in The SSL/Computer Weekly Quarterly Survey of Appointments Data and Trends.

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

The posts advertised are broken down in the survey into 55 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 platform type, industry sector and regional location. It also gives 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 on CD, which allows selection of combinations of region, industry and software skills for a specified job type. Readers can order it at

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