AbsoluteIT director Grant Burley says "nervous confidence" best describes the mood as the new year gets underway.
"We all believe it will be a better year."
Factors that will make it an improvement on 2009 include projects such as Auckland's Supercity and initiatives by large companies like Fonterra, which will spur demand for IT staff.
"Large organisations such as Fonterra, Fletcher Building and Telecom are investing in significant projects."
Those projects involve the use of "some interesting technologies" to help boost efficiency, Burley says.
That is pushing up demand for staff skilled in telecommunications conversions, business intelligence and content management, he says.
"Cloud computing will also be a big area of further development."
Datacentre transformation is an area likely to see much activity this year, he says, and the government's broadband projects will also spur hiring and skill-seeking.
The cautious upswing began late last year, Burley says, with a shortage of business analysts becoming apparent.
Project managers, who saw a significant decline in demand for their skills during the early and middle stages of last year, are now being sought-after, as are project coordinators, developers and testers.
"We expect that as things start to warm up, those skill-sets will be in further demand."
The improving global economy is boosting exporting New Zealand firms such as Fonterra and Xero, Burley says.
"New Zealand companies that are focused internationally are experiencing good growth."
Sally Breed, managing director of retail sector IT recruitment specialist IT@Work, says while January is usually a quiet month, "IT@Work is already experiencing an extremely positive start to the year.
"We have been asked to source a number of candidates already, especially on the contract side."
A rise in the number of projects on the go is behind the surge in demand, Breed says.
"It seems companies are taking projects off the back-burner, but are finding their in-house resources already fully committed, or in many cases even over-committed, as they grapple with last year's downscaling.
"Feedback from clients reflects an awareness of the need to balance the demands of the recent hard times, with the opportunities presented through a high kiwi dollar and changing labour market.
"This may mean deferring the refresh of hardware where possible, but at the same time investing in new retail systems."
She says feedback from one client, Leading Edge, was that it had enjoyed growth over the past few years, but out of necessity, systems development had been ad-hoc.
However, this year will be marked by a shift in focus as the firm refines systems, she says.
Steve Gillingwater, who took the step of leaving international firm Robert Walters in August to start his own IT recruitment company, TalentVault, says the decision to go out on his own during what was a tough time has been vindicated.
"It was the right decision and I'm optimistic for this year," Gillingwater says.
"Talking with some clients, they have healthy pipelines of work for this year and things are looking more positive.
"It's still very early in the year, but things are looking good."
Skills that are in demand as the year gets underway include Microsoft Dynamics functional capability, with demand picking up for technical architects and project managers, a sign that projects are set to be launched.
"Project managers are starting to be employed, which suggests projects are being kicked off."
Other areas, such as Java and .Net development, haven't seen a similar upswing in demand, he says.
Such skills were highly sought during the good times before 2009, "but I'm yet to see that start again".
Gillingwater says both his and other recruitment firms are looking at hiring more IT recruitment consultants, "which is a good indicator".
He foresees that if things pick up internationally, a skills shortage similar to the one experienced in 2007-08 could develop, as candidates look to Australia, the UK and other countries for work.
"Australia is pretty healthy at the moment, but the UK has a way to go.
"However, we have an affiliation with a UK IT recruiter, and they say things are improving there," Gillingwater says.
Potentia managing director Josh Comrie says "areas of the market that I see as being buoyant this quarter are those of software product development, across both Microsoft and open source technologies."
There is also a marked change affecting kleadership and infrastructure/networking/server professionals, areas which were relatively quiet last year, Comrie says.
"Leadership was an area hit quite hard by the recession as teams were consolidated and downsized.
"The likelihood for the manager to become overstretched is quite high. Couple that with business growth and confidence returning to the market, and I think there will be some good leadership roles 'created' which will see some churn return to the market.
"Regarding infrastructure roles, these have been quiet as last year saw little in the way of major changes, but again confidence is returning."
The latest iteration of Windows is providing an impetus for hiring activity, he says.
"With Windows 7 being a great OS, and people not having really gone to Vista in enterprises, it may be time to move up from XP.
"We see some project and churn opportunities opening up here."