Survey: Average starting IT salaries to decline in 2004

IT recruitment firm Robert Half Technology (RHT) has unveiled the results of a recently-conducted salary survey that suggests there will be a slight drop in Canadian IT starting salaries in 2004 compared to 2003.

According to the Robert Half Technology 2004 Salary Guide, which is based on an analysis of job orders managed by the company’s Canadian offices, starting salaries overall are projected to decrease an average of 2.1 per cent in 2004.

Stephen Mill, regional manager for RHT in Toronto, said the decrease is the result of a “decompression still happening in a lot of IT positions.” He said there was an “inflationary aspect” to staffing that went on about three years ago, which burst along with the dot-com bubble. “Now there’s an abundant supply of candidates, and less work,” he said, noting that this coming year’s decreases are not as bad as what the IT sector experienced in 2002 and 2003.

“Starting salaries went down not a whole lot more than two or three per cent (in 2002 and 2003),” which is still not bad, he said, “but when you take that year-over-year, there are some positions that have dropped substantially.” Despite signs of stabilization, “we’re not out of the woods by any stretch.”

Mill said the recent trend toward offshore outsourcing probably won’t have a huge impact on starting salary decreases, except for at the very bottom of the totem pole, in lower-level programming positions, for example.

The biggest negative change in salary is expected for information systems (IS) managers, who this year fell into the salary range of $85,500 to $131,750 and next year will earn between $85,500 and $115,000 – a decrease in salary range of 7.7 per cent, according to the guide. Vice-presidents of technology, who in 2003 earned between $105,750 and $173,000, will take a 5.8 per cent hit, with starting salaries reduced to $98,750 and top salaries hitting the ceiling at $163,000. A 5.8 per cent negative change is also expected for applications development managers’ salaries, which in 2003 ranged from $75,750 to $114,250, but in 2004 will be squeezed into the $71,500 to $107,500 range.

Any increases, Mill said, will occur mostly in positions such as information security and systems audit, which are high demand specialties.

According to RHT’s research, network engineers will see the greatest starting salary increases of any single job classification in 2004, with base compensation expected to rise 2.6 per cent, to the range of $58,000 to $81,250 annually. Average starting compensation for a data security analyst is projected to increase 1.8 per cent in 2004, to between $65,500 and $88,250. Starting salaries for quality assurance/testing managers are also expected to increase 1.8 per cent in 2004, to the range of $51,750 to $62,750.

Increases, however, will be “few and far between” and will not be able to counteract the overall starting salary shrinkage, Mill said.

The salary survey also found that industries in Canada forecasting particularly strong demand for IT professionals in 2004 include business services, health care and financial services. However, hiring activity within these sectors will vary significantly by geographic region, RHT research found.

According to the salary guide, technology executives in Ottawa are actively recruiting technical support specialists at all levels. As well, bilingual IT professionals and those with government security clearances will be in greater demand.

As they are moving forward with enterprise resource planning (ERP) upgrades, Vancouver companies are in need of individuals who can support and develop applications, while CIOs in the Greater Toronto Area are looking for candidates with experience conducting applications upgrades to the .NET framework and systems migrations to Windows XP.

Telecommunications companies in Edmonton are seeking UNIX administrators and help desk technicians, while the finance industry is looking for risk management specialists and security consultants. In Alberta as a whole, natural resources firms are looking for network managers, database administrators and SAP analysts.

A free copy of the Robert Half Technology 2004 Salary Guide can be ordered at

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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