Demand still exceeds supply for IT workers

IT workers who enjoyed the Labour Day weekend could celebrate the holiday knowing that they’re in a field where demand remains strong despite the sluggish economy – although that demand may not translate into higher salaries this year.

To compete for skilled IT workers, companies aren’t necessarily offering higher salaries. Employers are 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 Cutter consultant Chris Pickering, who wrote the report “Survey of E-Business and IT Practices.” “This means that there is greater demand for IT staff than there is supply.”

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 focus on non-salary benefits supports one or both of these claims: the long-standing view 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, signaling a leveling off or decline in salary increases.

Meanwhile, Computerworld’s annual salary survey shows that IT salaries are rising moderately this year, averaging just under six per cent but still higher than the four 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 the demand a year ago.

An ITAA report titled “When Can You Start?” concluded that demand for IT workers is strong despite a 44 per cent drop in demand from last year. Based on telephone interviews with 685 hiring managers, the report said that this year, employers would try to fill more than 900,000 new IT jobs and 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 2002 remain in the area of technical support, although demand for technical support professionals is down 65 per cent from last year. The ITAA added that while the slowdown in the economy has diminished IT spending, demand for IT talent with the requisite technical skills persists.

Pickering said the glut of ex-dot-com workers flooding the job market has led to a mismatch of skills between employers and potential employees. According to Chicago-based outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas, 87,795 dot-com workers were 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 for online recruiting firm in Bloomington, Minn., agreed that the demand for qualified IT professionals far 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 jobs for those with IT skills are systems administration, where the average salary for a worker with 10 years of experience was US$78,400, nearly 72 per cent more than the average starting salary for this job title; project management, where employees can expect to earn about $47,400 to start and $93,600 after 10 years; and technology management, where 10-year veterans earn about $97,400, about twice the $48,600 starting salary. Entry-level positions in the last two categories, however, are hard to come by, Lee said.