More money coming for IT professionals

IT professionals will be taking their skills to the bank this year as average starting salaries are expected to increase 6.9 per cent in 1999.

According to the 1999 RHI Consulting Salary Guide, that increase more than doubles the 3.3 per cent forecasted for 1998, and it will be seen in various degrees throughout the industry. The study looked at Canada and the U.S.

David Tighe, Canadian area manager at RHI Consulting in North York, Ont., said the reason for the salary increase is clear.

“Not to oversimplify this, but quite simply (it’s) supply and demand. An increase of that nature is related more to very highly-technical, high-skill level positions where there is an overabundance of demand and limited supply…there are hot technologies and there are not enough people to fit the bill,” Tighe said.

According to the annual survey, one of the hottest jobs this year belongs to software package implementation specialists. Those experienced in the installation and customization of “off-the-shelf” business application software should see an increase of 16.3 per cent, putting them in the $49,000 to $68,500 range. An additional 10 to 25 per cent can be expected by those skilled in SAP, while those with PeopleSoft skills will command a premium of 15 to 20 per cent.

Explained Tighe: “The problem is that they’re such good products and their marketing is so widespread, there just aren’t enough qualified folks in the marketplace who have the skills to support them.”

Internet network architects can expect to see starting salaries rise 14.4 per cent to a range of between $55,000 and $77,750.

This comes as no surprise, Tighe said, considering that organizations are increasing their focus on doing business on the Web.

But while the shortage of skilled IT workers is a common theme, according to Tighe the IT field is far too broad to generalize with one stroke of the brush.

“There are definite shortages within certain niche technology areas – network server development, database development, Web development, object-oriented design,” he said. However, “there are not shortages in other areas, in more entry-level areas, people with certifications, MCSC (Microsoft Consulting Services Certification) or CNE (Certified NetWare Engineer), with limited experience.”

What Tighe calls the “experience factor” is what many of the potential recruits are lacking. Although there is no shortage of people with designations and accreditations at the entry level, the much sought after skilled technicians are few and far between.

Chris Shaw, manager of information technology, School of Information Technology, Accounting and Electronics at Toronto’s Humber College, said this need is reflected in the continuous increase in enrolment for many of the college’s IT programs. And often times, she noted, students in a co-op program do not return to school because their experience has lead to an offer of employment.

However, at the same time companies are looking for specialized skill sets, they are also expecting more from their employees, Tighe said. Not only must IT professionals know their jobs, they have to be able to communicate that technical understanding to non-technical colleagues.

In fact, a survey conducted by RHI among 1,500 CIOs indicates that 97 per cent of executives look for “soft skills” such as business acumen and interpersonal communication skills when evaluating candidates.

The bottom line, Tighe explained, is that “there’s still a perception in the marketplace that education is great, it’s important, it’s critical, but some real life, real-time experience is also very important.”

According to RHI, the top spot on the salary scale is occupied by chief information officers, who earn between $110,000 to $176,000, a 1.8 per cent increase over last year. Further behind are applications development managers at between $69,000 to $95,000, database managers at $70,000 to $88,750 and consulting and systems integration directors at $70,000 to $99,000.

But as Tighe admitted, “I could be a seven per cent (increase) guy this year and next year, but three years from now I might be a zero per cent guy (if) I haven’t kept ahead of the curve.”