Pay hikes seen for select developers

While overall salaries in IT are expected to drop this year, a recent study found that salaries of highly skilled software developers in Canada specializing in fields such as customization and embedded software will command salary increases of 13 to 15 per cent in 2003.

The study, IT/Software Salaries, False Sense of Complacency?, was conducted by Personnel Systems in conjunction with the Software Human Resource Council (SHRC). Approximately 300 Canadian IT companies took part in the comparison of salaries for IT employees from 2001 to 2003.

“Software developers are seen as having a higher level of skill sets within the entire IT industry range of jobs. They are still in more demand than many other jobs, like Web developers or help desk analysts,” said Janice Schellenberger, partner with Personnel Systems in Ottawa.

“As such, what we see reflected in their salaries is that they continue to receive increases that are higher than the rest of the technology sector, and higher than the rest of the jobs within the software IT marketplace.”

Schellenberger attributed some of this to the fact that specialized developers require a combination of skills. For example, embedded software specialists need to have knowledge of software and hardware, Schellenberger said.

The study indicates that those are specialized skills, and there are only so many people out there with them, she said.

Since the onset of the industry downturn, software developers with advanced skills are also being required to take on more responsibilities, said Ian Germaise, a consultant who has worked in the embedded software stream.

“[Embedded development] is getting hotter, and people who have lots of experience and are specialists in certain areas can get very high salaries, especially because they are expected to do their own project management,” he said. “Often the analysis and design functions are combined, whereas in the past there might be a separate systems analyst on the team.”

The additional workload accounts for the salary increases, Germaise said, but he noted that top software developers can usually write their own ticket because their skills are so crucial to their employer’s strategy.

Kate Gregory, a partner at Gregory Consulting Ltd, a Peterborough, Ont.-based software consulting firm, said she has given raises in the 13 to 15 per cent range this year because her employees have taken on extra duties.

“We’ve certainly piled more duties on the people who we kept and we’ve given them compensation for those extra duties in lieu of hiring more people,” Gregory said.

While such rewards are slowly starting to re-appear after years of uncertainty, Schellenberger says a lot of companies are still in the dark when it comes to employee pay raises.

“Rather than doing an annual increase, [companies] are looking at quarterly reviews and looking at their business plans. I mean, two years ago we saw that quarterly review because the salaries were moving so fast,” she said. Today, companies are performing quarterly reviews to find out if raises are even possible.

This complacency within certain companies, Schellenberger said, must start to shift.

“I think [some of these companies] need to take a closer look at the kinds of jobs they have, and it really comes down to – if they have employees with a unique skill, or a unique blend of skills – they maybe shouldn’t be quite so complacent about those jobs.”

Schellenberger said the study was conducted because of the perception within the industry that job shortages have disappeared due to the economic climate.

“What we’re saying is that you need to be careful with that assumption,” she said.

Many of the layoffs that occurred in the technology sector happened within the telecom and related industries, Schellenberger said, adding that software as a whole was not impacted as greatly.

“Certainly, these shortages still exist. Once the market starts to improve, you’re going to see the pressure for those kinds of skills build quickly again,” she said.