Construction and finance among sectors seeking to boost IT staff

In the US, certain industries are experiencing high demand for technology employees

Just a few years ago, IT hiring was in the dumps, but now experts say it’s on a roll.

Recent surveys show IT hiring is hot in many industries, and workers with IT skills such as security or Windows administration have employers knocking on their doors.

The hottest industries for IT hiring in the US are finance, insurance and real estate, according to a recent survey of 1,400 CIOs by recruiter Robert Half Technology.

The survey, which projects hiring trends for July to September, shows that 16% of CIOs in those areas expect to add IT staff, and only 1% report plans to decrease headcount. The 15% net increase is five points above the national average, according to the survey.

The growth in construction is also fuelling IT hiring increases. Five per cent of that industry’s CIOs say they plan to add staff, and 3% says they plan reductions, an overall increase in hiring intentions of 2%.

“We are looking at hiring another network administrator for configuration of network routers and that type of thing,” says Winston Grey, IT manager for Consigliore Construction. The company, which is working to expand operations throughout New England, has just hired a web designer and software specialist. Grey says he is finding an excellent pool of qualified applicants.

“What we got five years ago were people right out of [tertiary institutes], and those that weren’t were asking for too much [money].” Grey says that despite the hiring increase, salary demands remain within today’s accepted levels. He also points out another factor that works in his favour as he projects his hiring trend to stretch over five years. “Today, candidates have a better knowledge of security and that is a big area for us right now.”

Another area where hiring is on the upswing is the transport industry, where 14% of executives report they plan to expand staff and none say they plan reductions. Yet another is business services — advertising, personnel services and data processing. Of the CIOs in business service firms, 18% plan to add IT staff and 5% are planning reductions, a net gain of 13%.

“In general, I think the growth is fueled by new investment,” says Phil Schneidermeyer, CIO practice leader for executive search firm Highland Partners. “If you were to look at the IT budget, it is going up. Therefore, those dollars are flowing into new projects and [hiring] talent to manage those projects.”

Users say IT hiring increases are piggybacking on an overall increase in business. Unlike the massive build-up of IT seen during the dot-com boom, Schneidermeyer says companies today are more pragmatic and forward-looking.

“While most companies continue to maintain a good balance between permanent headcount and consultants, I think there is going to be growth on both sides. I don’t think it is about only hiring consultants or only hiring permanent headcount. I think it is balanced, based on how [companies] see the next several years playing out. [There] is not going to be the permanent empire-building that there once was.”

Indeed, companies are not losing sight of the fact that prosperity often runs in cycles.

“We have brought on contractors to help us out, some of them for upwards of a year, instead of adding permanent staff,” says George Defenbaugh, manager of global IT infrastructure projects for oil company Hess. He says Hess has little turnover in its permanent staff. “Especially in the oil business, which is considered a cyclical industry, if you have the opportunity not to bloat up your permanent staff you take it. And, with contract staff, we can get specific skills we are seeking,” Defenbaugh says.

Given that hiring is up across the board, experts say companies are losing the luxury of prolonged searches for new IT talent. Those companies also have to do more than just offer competitive compensation packages. A recent Gartner survey showed IT professionals are paying more attention to career development and work-life balance.

“Companies that are used to hiring in a client market where they can take their time and be a little picky need to look at how they can speed up the hiring process without compromising talent,” says Brian Gabrielson, national practice director for Robert Half Technology.

“The top talent is not lasting that long on the market. If you want to attract top ten talent you have to speed things up a bit.”

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