IT salary survey: optimism in declining IT job market

The effects of the economic downturn are clearly visible in the IT industry as job...

The effects of the economic downturn are clearly visible in the IT industry as job vacancies decline, but some skills are still in demand.

The most recent survey on the IT jobs market by ComputerWeekly/Salary Services Limited (SSL) shows IT job vacancies in finance are down by 14.9% in Q3 compared with Q2, in the public sector by 20.5%, in media by 14% and in manufacturing by 9%.

But the sector is better placed than most to meet the oncoming recession, and some IT staff are still experiencing high demand for their skills. Experts say IT professionals have their work cut out over the coming months, but that many will be able to weather the storm.

The skills shortage of the past few years means demand has been higher than supply, and in some areas the downturn is bringing the two back into balance. IT can be essential in a recession - it can improve efficiency, cut costs and bring competitive advantage. The challenge for IT professionals is to make the benefits of IT clear to the rest of the business.

The SSL survey contains strands of optimism. Demand for some jobs might be falling, but there are some which persist in staying strong.

Management level jobs, such as communications and network managers, technical support managers and systems development managers, saw increases in demand for the year from Q3 2007 to Q3 2008. And project leaders, systems analysts and IT directors all saw increases in salaries for the same period.

"There are still some areas of demand," said Richard Steel, CIO at Newham Council. "Many are within the areas of programme management."

John Meakin, group head of information security of Standard Chartered Bank, says management skills are valuable, even in a downturn.

And Bruno Laquet, CIO at Corus Group, says he would be willing to pay the asking salary of someone who can make a difference to project delivery.

"I think there will continue to be strong demand for some senior roles, such as strong network managers and strong web architects and web operational managers," says Mike Cope, IT director at Virgin Airlines.

And it is not just senior staff who are witnessing steady demand. Companies continue to take advantage of cheap labour in countries such as India, and off-shoring is still a threat, but there has been a surprise growth in demand for UK-based junior skills. Both PC support analysts and PC support workers have seen increases in demand, from 3,989 jobs advertised in Q3 2007 to 4,528 in Q3 2008, and 1,932 to 1,972 respectively.

Michael Bennett, director at Rethink Recruitment, says, "Many companies are deciding they would like some of those skills closer to home, which has led to an unexpected increase in demand."

Web skills are likely to stay in high demand. Advertised vacancies for web designers rose from 1,165 in Q3 2007 to 1,565 in Q3 2008. Advertised salaries increased by 1.6% over the year, while salaries for web authors jumped by 7.6%.

Richard Steel says it is worthwhile for IT professionals to invest in developing web skills. Demand for these skills will increase over the coming years, he says, as organisations start to make the most of what Web 2.0 can offer. Understanding the technology behind it will stand IT staff in good stead.

Marilyn Davidson, director of the Association of Technology Staffing Companies, says, "An increasing number of businesses are going online to cut costs by automating more and more processes, so web skills will be continually in demand."

No-one can deny that the next couple of years will be difficult, however, and many of the problems are likely to bite harder in the next few months.

Cope says, "As the down turn begins to bite deeper we will begin to see a greater slackening of the IT market," while Davidson predicts that the next quarter will be "interesting. Only then is the full impact likely to come through."

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