Demand For IT Staff Strong, Salary Growth Slows

Labour Day found IT workers in a field where demand remains strong despite the sluggish economy. But that demand may not translate into higher salaries this year.

To compete for skilled IT workers, employers aren’t necessarily offering higher salaries. Instead, they’re pushing other benefits, such as flexible hours, training and telecommuting choices, to attract and retain employees, according to a Cutter Consortium survey of 47 Fortune 1,000 companies.

“The fact that companies are having trouble keeping up with market salaries means that salaries are rising more rapidly than expected,” said Chris Pickering, a consultant at Arlington, Mass.-based Cutter and author of the report, “Survey of E-Business and IT Practices”.

“This means that there is greater demand for IT staff than there is supply,” Pickering added.

To attract the best IT people, companies are allowing workers to telecommute and training them on technologies that will lead to work on cutting-edge projects.

Pickering noted that the decision by companies to focus on nonsalary benefits supports one or both of the following claims: that IT professionals are more concerned about working conditions and advancing their technical expertise, and that companies have gone as far as they are willing to go in terms of salary, signalling a levelling off or decline in salary increases.

Modest Raises

Meanwhile, Computerworld (U.S.)‘s 15th Annual Salary Survey shows that IT salaries are rising moderately this year, averaging just under 6 per cent, which is still higher than the 4 per cent raise the average U.S. worker can expect.

A study released in April by the Information Technology Association of America (ITAA), an Arlington, Va.-based trade group, also supports the view that demand for IT workers remains substantial, although not as strong as demand a year ago.

The ITAA report titled “When Can You Start?” concluded that demand for IT workers is strong despite a 44 per cent drop from last year. Based on telephone interviews with 685 hiring managers, the report said employers will try to fill more than 900,000 new IT jobs this year but that 425,000 of those jobs will remain vacant. Last year, the ITAA said there were 850,000 openings for IT workers.

According to the group, the jobs most in demand by IT and non-IT companies through the first quarter of next year will continue to be in the area of technical support, although demand for technical support professionals is down 65 per cent from last year. The ITAA added that although the slowdown in the economy has diminished IT spending, demand for IT professionals with certain skills persists.

Pickering said the glut of former dot-com workers has led to a “mismatch” of skills between employers and potential employees. According to Chicago-based outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas Inc., 87,795 dot-com workers have been laid off since January.

“Java programmers are not in top demand now,” Pickering said. “Because companies are concerned with integrating legacy systems with e-business systems, [people] with cross-application integration skills [are in demand].”

Shuman Lee, director of analytics at on-line recruiting firm Inc. in Bloomington, Minn., agreed that the demand for qualified IT professionals outweighs the supply.

“[Companies] can’t get enough [IT] people. The technology field is just growing too rapidly,” Lee said. “And [prospective employees] are getting more attractive packages.”

Lee said some of the best-paying fields in IT are systems administration, where the average salary for a worker with 10 years of experience is US$78,400, nearly 72 per cent more than the average starting salary for that job title; project management, where employees can expect to earn about US$47,400 to start and US$93,600 after 10 years; and technology management, where 10-year veterans earn about US$97,400, about twice the US$48,600 starting salary.