Fewer chief information officers (CIOs) expect to expand their IT staffs in the fourth quarter of this year, as businesses continue to look for signs of a sustained economic recovery before hiring more full-time employees, a new survey reveals.

Only nine per cent of executives polled planned to expand their IT staffs in the fourth quarter, while four per cent anticipate staff reductions, according to a survey of 1,400 U.S. chief information officers (CIOs) recently released by Robert Half Technology.

The five-percentage-point difference between companies looking to hire and companies looking to cut staff is two percentage points lower than forecasts for the third quarter of this year.

Forty-seven per cent of the CIOs who do expect to hire more staff said business expansion was a leading factor, according to the researcher, while 19 per cent said improving end-user support would drive their hiring decisions.

Larger firms, with more than 1,000 employees, were more optimistic about hiring, and companies in the East South Central region of the U.S. – comprised of Alabama, Kentucky, Missouri and Tennessee – reported a higher staffing demand than other regions, Robert Half Technology said.

In terms of job skills, 79 per cent of CIOs polled said that they needed experienced Microsoft Windows (NT/2000/XP) administrators, while 40 per cent said their department could use a good SQL Server administrator.

Administrators of Cisco Systems Inc. networks need not fear, however, because 29 per cent of the executives said that this was a “high-demand specialty.”

While cost-cutting remains a priority for CIOs, companies are loosening their purse strings to invest in IT initiatives designed to generate revenue, Robert Half Technology Director Katherine Spencer Lee said in a statement.

Robert Half Technology is an IT staffing firm based in Menlo Park, California.