IT managers struggling to fill many posts

In the US, suitable candidates are proving hard to find

Last month, Timothy Ramsay, assistant vice president of computer and network services at the University of Miami, hired a security manager. But it took a year-long search and a 30% increase in the pay offer.

Ramsay says the search was so difficult because of increased IT hiring activity, particularly in hot job areas such as security, database administration and project management. Salaries have also become a big issue in South Florida, where housing prices have soared. The university is now studying across-the-board pay increases for workers in IT and other departments to help them deal with the region’s high cost of living, Ramsay says.

But the hiring crunch that he experienced isn’t limited to South Florida. The IT job market is improving throughout the US, according to several recent reports on technology employment trends. At the same time, though, it appears to be getting harder for employers to recruit people to fill the job openings they have.

That’s partly because the increased demand is creating competition for IT workers, and partly because some employers are seeking people with a range of skills that may be hard to find. For instance, Ramsay says the University of Miami was looking for someone who had policy and administrative skills, a technical background in security with certifications, and the ability to address key issues such as identity management.

In addition, there may be more reluctance among IT workers to move to new jobs than there has been in the past, say some technology managers and recruiters. “The market is picking up,” says Nate Viall, president of Nate Viall and Associates, which recruits workers for jobs involving IBM’s System i server line. But Viall adds that some of the IT staffers he has encountered are wary about switching jobs.

“People are cautious,” he says. “They either got burned themselves at the beginning of the decade or know three friends that did.”

Steven Strout, CIO at media company Morris Communications, says he also thinks IT workers aren’t jumping at new job opportunities. “People seem to be a little scared of the economic times and are ‘living with the devil they know,’” he says. However, he notes that despite the hiring difficulties, he is filling the open positions at Morris.

Recently, business information provider The Conference Board said that about 4.37 million online job advertisements were placed in the US in April, a 24% increase from the same month a year ago. Of that total, approximately 323,000 ads were in the “computer and mathematical” category, which is defined by the US Bureau of Labour Statistics as including occupations such as computer programmer and database administrator. The online ads in that category were up about 15% from last April, The Conference Board reported.

Gad Levanon, an economist with The Conference Board, says the year-over-year increases in online ads could signal an improvement in the job market. Levanon says it may also be an indication of a tight labour supply, such that companies “need to advertise more aggressively because the number of people looking for jobs is smaller.”

The AeA, a Washington-based trade group formerly known as the American Electronics Association, said in a report released April 24 that there were 5.8 million high-tech jobs in the US last year — up by 3% year-on-year. In 2005, the number of jobs grew by only about 1%, the AeA says.

In December, Robert Half Technology said its quarterly survey of more than 1,400 CIOs showed that 16% planned to hire additional IT staffers during this year’s first quarter, while 2% planned to make cutbacks.

The firm reported in March that 14% of the respondents to its most recent survey said they expected to add IT workers during this quarter, with 2% again planning reductions.

“It’s harder to fill jobs because the demand is so great,” says Brian Gabrielson, a vice president at the company.

David Foote, CEO and chief research officer at IT research firm Foote Partners, describes the current IT job market as “robust”. The need for workers who have SAP or .Net skills is high, and business analysts and enterprise architects are also in demand, according to Foote.

Another issue is that many employers are getting very specific about the workers they’re looking for, Foote says. For instance, he says, a company may want someone who has experience on a certain SAP module or with ITIL.

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