ITWC annual salary survey: A move to performance-based compensation

Whether it’s the lingering effects of the economic crash of 2008, economic turmoil in Europe, political instability in the Middle East, or other worldwide phenomena, there’s a pall being cast on IT salaries. The IT professionals we surveyed reported an average base salary of about $88,510. That’s barely half a per cent more than they reported for last year’s base salary ($88,065), and not enough to keep up with Canada’s meager inflation rate, reported at 1.2 per cent in June 2013.

And, in fact, it was only IT management seeing salary increases, with the average rising four per cent to $92,987, from 89,104 last year. Executives (2013 average: $130,967) and technical staff ($2013 average: $76,340) took about a one per cent salary cut each.

But, while salaries may have remained essentially flat, there appears to be a move toward performance-based compensation. Cash bonus compensation across the board rose 17.4 per cent, to an average of $8,389. Surprisingly, it wasn’t the executive class that saw the highest bonus increase; the average of $29,501 in bonuses was up only 8.5 per cent (though in hard dollars, the executive bonus was nearly five times the average management bonus of $6,504, and seven times the average staff bonus of $4,156). IT managers saw their bonus packages rise by 30.9 per cent, while technical staff saw a boost of 27 per cent.

Executives – who count on bonuses for 18.3 per cent of their compensation – saw their total cash compensation rise by an anemic 0.6 per cent to an average of $160,468. Management and staff relied less on bonuses (6.6 per cent and 5.2 per cent, respectively) for their total compensation. Total cash compensation rose only 0.4 per cent for staff and technical positions (to $80,496), while IT management had a more substantial 5.5 per cent increase, to $99,291.

Where the money is

The top-paying verticals were defence/aerospace (and average salary of $123,272), computer-related manufacturing ($117,756) and energy/utilities ($109,026). In the energy/utilities vertical, IT managers actually average a higher salary ($132,602) than executives ($131,293), though the difference is within the realm of statistical error.

Perhaps it’s that energy wealth that propelled Alberta IT wages past those of the country’s business engine in the Greater Toronto Area. Alberta’s average IT salary of $99,851 and total cash compensation of $108,439 bested the GTA’s respective totals of $93,030 and $105,761. GTA salaries actually took a step backward in 2013 – down almost three per cent from last year’s average of $95,963 – although an increase in cash bonuses made up for almost all the difference.

In fact, no region demonstrated a shift toward performance-based compensation more than the GTA. The average cash bonus package rose 44 per cent to $12,371. IT executives saw a whopping 64 per cent increase in bonus packages, to an average of $43,714.

Perhaps the message is: Go west, young IT professional, but not too far. British Columbia’s average compensation package for IT professionals, including bonus, was $85,160; only the Maritimes ($78,345) had a lower number.

Getting satisfaction

On the whole, Canadian IT professionals are satisfied with their lot at work; 68.3 per cent declared themselves “satisfied” or “very satisfied” with their jobs. Only 7.7 per cent said they were dissatisfied, with another 2 per cent saying they were “very dissatisfied.” Twenty-two per cent said they were neither satisfied nor dissatisfied.

There is a relationship between salary and satisfaction, but it’s not linear. Those who were very dissatisfied had the lowest average salary ($79,286), and those who were very satisfied had the highest ($103,348). But curiously, those who declared themselves “satisfied” had a lower average salary ($86,442) than those who said they were dissatisfied ($93,332).

The polarization of attitudes among the higher-paid executive respondents partly accounts for this. That is the job category that was most likely to say they were very satisfied (30.1 per cent, versus 15.3 per cent of managers and 12.4 per cent of technical staff); they were also most likely to say they were dissatisfied (11.1 per cent, versus 8 per cent of managers and 9.6 per cent of staff).

There were geographic pockets of malaise, notably British Columbia, where 13 per cent declared themselves dissatisfied or very dissatisfied; the Maritimes (12.3 per cent); and Ontario outside the GTA (12.5 per cent).  The first two regions posted the lowest average salaries. Interestingly enough, the Maritimes respondents were among the most likely to say they were satisfied or very satisfied as well (72. 3 per cent, second only to Alberta’s 72.6 per cent). East coast respondents were less likely to be ambivalent about their situation; only 15.4 per cent said they were neither satisfied nor dissatisfied, compared to a national average of 21.9 per cent.

Restless West

But job satisfaction doesn’t translate to standing pat on the job search front. Albertans were most satisfied with their jobs, but they were also the most likely to be actively looking for a new one, with 10.1 per cent on the hunt, compared to a 7.7 per cent national average. Other regions where IT pros were more likely to be actively job-hunting were British Columbia and the GTA; in both areas, 9 per cent were actively seeking new jobs.

Among the three regions where the fewest were actively looking for jobs, two – Ontario (4.4 per cent) and the Maritimes (4.6 per cent) – were among the three regions with the most job dissatisfaction. IT professionals were least likely to be looking for a job in the Prairies/Northern Canada region, where only 2.7 per cent were active job-seekers. At the same time, though, IT workers in the Prairies/Northern Canada region were most open to listening to offers, with 50.6 per cent saying they’d consider an IT job with another company, compared to a national average of 45 per cent.

What might bring those who are listening to job offers to another company? Salary was overwhelmingly the most likely factor to affect a job change decision, with 74 per cent saying more cash would play a role in a job change decision. Better work-life balance (43 per cent), more job security (32 per cent) and more vacation time (30 per cent ) were also top influencers. Respondents were unmoved by the prospect of relocation (11 per cent), paid moving expenses (8 per cent) and a title change (15 per cent), and a large signing bonus placed remarkably low on the list of influencers at 21 per cent.

Job search numbers might reflect hiring trends in the regions – if jobs are available, IT workers might be more inclined to consider them. In Alberta, twice as many respondents – 56 per cent – forecast hiring new IT staff in the next 12 months as say their company won’t be hiring, compared to a national average of 45 per cent.

Skills in demand

While technology continually evolves, remarkably, the skills in demand remain largely unchanged. The top five skills companies surveyed are hiring for have remained the same for the last three years, with applications development continuing to be the No. 1 in-demand skill set, with 25 per cent of those surveyed saying they’d be hiring for those positions.  Help desk and tech support remained No. 2 on the list at 17 per cent. Last year’s No. 4, business intelligence (13 per cent), moved up a spot, as did last year’s No. 5, general IT functions (12 per cent). Database analysis and development, at 12 per cent, dropped from third to fifth.

Demand for cloud computing skills, at 11 per cent, is knocking on the door of the top five. Meanwhile, at the bottom end of the scale, legacy skills and groupware/e-mail were in demand by only two per cent of respondents.

Feeling secure

There’s a consistent trend among IT professionals regarding their perception of their job’s security. Ninety per cent of respondents  considered their job at least somewhat secure, compared to 89 per cent last year. Of those, 31 per cent called their position “secure” and 18 per cent “very secure, “ numbers very similar to last year’s salary survey.

But while two-thirds of respondents said job security was the same now as it was 12 months ago, 20 per cent felt their job was more secure last year, compared to 10 per cent who felt their job was less secure last year.

Respondents in the executive job category were most likely to rate their positions as “very secure” at 25 per cent, while only 20 per cent of managers and 16 per cent of staff felt the same.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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Dave Webb
Dave Webb
Dave Webb is a freelance editor and writer. A veteran journalist of more than 20 years' experience (15 of them in technology), he has held senior editorial positions with a number of technology publications. He was honoured with an Andersen Consulting Award for Excellence in Business Journalism in 2000, and several Canadian Online Publishing Awards as part of the ComputerWorld Canada team.

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