Salary survey reveals a strong market

A shortage of IT skills in areas such as application development and messaging administration is expected to lead to an increase in starting salaries for IT professionals, according to the “Robert Half 2008 Salary Guide,” which was released this week.

In the guide, Robert Half Technology, a Menlo Park, Calif.-based IT consulting and staffing company, details the starting salaries of a range of IT workers, along with current IT employment issues, such as the strong hiring market and the ongoing results of the skills shortage.

Robert Half Technology gathered the information from a variety of sources, including its own job placements, the expected demand for certain jobs, a collection of actual 2007 starting salaries, trend analysis for 2008, and its own in-house career research.

Corporate growth continues to surge, and IT investment has come along with it, resulting in “the demand for skilled IT professionals to rise to a level not seen in several years,” according to the report. This comes, unfortunately, in tandem with the skills shortage, which is continuing unabated, especially among the coveted skill-sets like Microsoft.NET or SQL Server development.

It’s also led to the common occurrence in the Canadian IT market of top-tier IT talent receiving several offers at once, said Geoffrey Thompson, director of the Ottawa division of Robert Half International. This trend is in line with another recent finding by the Edmonton-based recruiting company David Aplin Recruiting, who discovered that Canadian IT staffers are relatively unique in their motivations for leaving a position. While, like the rest of the eight vectors (such as legal, human resources, and sales), being asked to something unethical ranked as the number-one reason to leave a job, “realizing you are underpaid compared to others doing the same job” was the second-most popular reason to leave a position. (Only those in the engineering and technical fields cited it as the number-one reason, while legal was the only other vector that also placed it second.)

Thompson attributed this to the increase in value of experienced IT workers during the skills shortage.

David Aplin Recruiting vice-president Mike Corbett concurred, saying, “IT has seen some dramatic changes in the last three to five years, with demand for it just as acute today was it was in the bubble (times), but without the fanfare. There’s a real demand.”

It’s resulted, said the report, in IT executives ensuring that they have a real long-term need for a new hire before going after candidates. Short-term hires to get companies through busy times are also becoming increasingly popular. Thompson said, “CIOs definitely have to have a business case to justify bringing someone on. They have to see what kind of ROI they’re getting.”

In such a complex hiring environment, CIOs are often finding it a challenge to fill positions efficiently, but are still enticing employees with things like sign-on bonuses, equity incentives, and professional development opportunities. New hires are making out well, too—according to the report, “businesses…are increasing compensation levels for new hires at nearly all levels of experience.” In the United States, starting salaries are expected to rise by 5.3 per cent, with a rise of seven per cent for in-demand jobs areas, like lead applications developers, messaging administrators and data modelers.

Canada in particular also will see continued growth, “spurred by investment in a wide range of industries, with oil and gas, IT development, healthcare, and professional services chief among them,” according to the report, which said that “companies large and small are in need of skilled IT professionals who can assist in the expansion of information systems and support ever-growing technology teams and infrastructure.”

Canadian positions that are especially in demand, according to Thompson, are in project management, applications and Web development, networking, and technical support. He said that he wasn’t particularly surprised by these popular positions, as, he said, “On the application side, companies have to deliver more application and system upgrades, and bigger infrastructure.” Thompson also said that the project manager revival has been going strong for a few years now, as businesses need specific implementations and strategies taken care of.

Networking and help desk/user support are the fastest-growing positions, with Windows administration, network administration, and database management the most sought-after skill-set. When it comes to the main drivers behind hiring pushes, network and desktop security, applications and Web development, wireless communications, business intelligence, new investment, and database administration and management were cited by IT execs.

But it isn’t just the hard skills that employers seek, but the soft skills, too. According to the report, “Soft skills and business acumen have become increasingly important in twenty-first century IT departments. An understanding of broader business and industry trends is valuable, as IT professionals assume more visible roles in shaping a company’s strategic decisions and in helping increase efficiencies and profits.” Said Thompson: “CIOs are looking for that full package of soft skills and hard technical skills. It’s no longer about code monkeys sitting in the corner—they have to keep business and IT aligned.”

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