Network staff with security experience are among the most in demand these days, according to the latest report from an IT labour market firm

There’s some security in security

Recessions can be merciless, and the one we’re going through is showing little mercy for any job category.

For while chief information officers like to say that information technology is the heart of any organization, this time IT has been as hard hit if not harder than any department. And among IT workers, those holding network-related jobs aren’t spared.

“Everybody felt it this time around,” said David Clarkson, vice-president of human resources at Cisco Systems Canada, “from executives to new grads.”

The good news is that there’s some security in security: Those with security-related skills are among those most highly sought by employers.

“We know of a number of network and system administrators during this recession who have moved into security full-time,”, said David Foote, CEO and chief research officer of Foote Partners LLC, a Vero Beach, Fla.-based IT labour market research firm which covers Canada and the U.S.

The bad news is 2010 may still be another bad year for IT hiring.

“I don’t see a lot of hiring happening, other that by service providers, for most of next year,” said David Foote.

According to the most recent Statistics Canada report, in October unemployment went up up despite two quarters of positive economic growth. On the other hand, for two months in a row the number of full-time jobs has increased. In the U.S., however, the situation is bleaker.

Foote said his latest North American report found “unusual volatility in the market for [IT] skills and certifications.”

“There’s more quarter-to-quarter volatility in the market now than we’ve seen since 2001,” which was the last recession, he said. “Things are haywire right now.”

For example, salaries of IT staff with non-certified skills in RFID (radio frequency identification) leveled off in the last three months after plunging 11 per cent. Salaries of Certified Novell Engineers suddenly jumped 25 per cent in the same period.

Generally, though, the salaries of networking personnel have dropped faster than the average over the last two years.

According to Foote, the pay of 57 networking-related skills that require certifications the company tracks dropped 0.9 per cent in the three month period that ended Oct. 1, compared to 0.2 per cent for a basket of 199 IT certified skills. In other words, their pay dropped more than the average.

Meanwhile the pay of those with IT security certified skills also dropped, but not as fast or as far.

The pattern is the same for those network people who don’t have certified skills.

Some of the volatility has to do with the usual supply catching up to demand. For example, Foote notes that on the company’s so-call Hot List of jobs likely to be in demand over the next three to six months, people with non-certified storage area networking and unified communication skills rank 20th and 22nd. Six months ago they were higher on the list.

Where are the bright spots for those with network-related skills? For one thing, Foote Partners notes that the average premium pay for those with security-related skills or certifications has steadily increased over the past two years – up an average 2.9 per cent – compared to all IT jobs, which have dropped 6.2 per cent.

Security here covers everything from biometrics to network security, from forensic analysis to threat assessment.

On Foote’s latest list of skill sets expected to be in demand over the next six months, security ranks sixth for those with non-certified skills. For those with IT certifications, the third highest demand will be for those holding the GIAC Security Audit Essentials certification, followed by those with a Check Point Software Certified Security Administrator certification (ninth).

Another growing area his survey shows is IT telephony, he added. “People are paying a lot for voice-over-IP or telephony skills.”

What Foote calls the “elephant in the room” for those with networking careers is managed services. Expected to be a US$66 billion global industry by 2012, it will shear away jobs from organizations who turn their networks over to service providers. That will result in a redistribution of jobs and skills within enterprises, Foote Partners notes. Demand from carriers and providers for staff with Metro Ethernet, as well as managed IP, VPN and VoIP skills will continue to increase.

Cisco’s Clarkson would put video/teleconference and wireless skills into the mix, while Doug Lindner, director of systems engineering at Juniper Networks Canada foresees demand for people with converged media skills.

But Foote, Clarkson and Lindner stress that IT skills alone aren’t enough to secure a career theses days. “This is not one of those downturns where it’s best to duck and hide” from management, Clarkson says. Rather you have to make sure supervisors understand what you contribute to the organization. He calls it “managing your brand.”

Similarly, Lindner says to do their jobs staff must have a good understanding how the network benefits the organization.

Although there’s so much uncertainty in the industry, it isn’t being felt among those entering the networking field, if a small survey of computer schools is any evidence.

At Toronto’s George Brown College, the school of computer technologies’ networking stream is filled, reports program co-ordinator Khalid Danok. Demand for its one-year post-diploma course in wireless networking is also up.

Similarly, at Oshawa, Ont.’s Durham College, computer system classes are full, says Ramzam Jaffer, program co-ordinator for the program. Because of demand from employers, a VoIP moduel will be added to the third year course next year, he added.

Among those looking forward to a network-related career are Chris Cowie and Danny Machnik, two Durham third year students who were the top Canadian team and placed and second overall at last month’s annual Cisco Systems Networking Academy NetRiders Skills Challenge. Both will graduate in the spring and are hoping their showing will look good on their resumes.

“I’m pretty confident things are turning around and there will be jobs for us,” Machnik said in an interview.

With the network still an essential part of most organizations, it’s no wonder that Juniper’s Lindener still says“any time is a good time to get into networking,” says Lindener. Many are also hoping it’s a good time to stay.
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