IT job trends yield surprises

Can you blame disaffected, stressed-out workers with worthless stock options for suddenly wanting the more relaxed work environment, better job security, fully paid family-friendly benefits and shorter hours of the public sector?

          In his first State of the Union speech, President Bush challenged Americans to consider some form of government service during their lifetimes.

          I don't necessarily think he had public-sector IT jobs in mind, but private-sector IT workers are more aggressively seeking jobs in federal and state government, according to my firm's latest quarterly research, which is compiled from continual tracking of nearly 32,000 IT professionals, 36% of whom work in organisations with $US500 million or more in revenue or $US3 billion-plus in total assets.

          Can you blame disaffected, stressed-out workers with worthless stock options for suddenly wanting the more relaxed work environment, better job security, fully paid family-friendly benefits and shorter hours of the public sector? Especially those who risk losing their jobs permanently to offshore technicians, contractors and part-time workers who can work more cheaply and provide IT executives greater flexibility in responding to shifting business needs.

          So-called permanent layoffs are a serious employment trend, appearing not just in our research but also in a report issued in August by the US. Bureau of Labor Statistics that confirmed the beginnings of structural downsizing more than a decade ago. If that's not ample reason for IT workers to be concerned, consider the thousands of manufacturing and aerospace jobs that vanished to foreign lands in the last century.

          As for IT compensation, 2002 was a tough year, but it had its bright spots. Overall, base salaries for 85 IT positions surveyed in our research declined by an average of 2.8%, and cash bonuses paid out fell by 32%.

          Bucking the downward trend, salaries for corporate security positions increased by an average of 5.5% in 2002, with total compensation up 3.3% as bonuses declined by a less dramatic 9.1%. Moreover, premium pay for security certification bonuses has risen 11.3% in value in 2002 and an even more impressive 31% over the past two years, thanks to several technical niche certifications from the SANS Institute and renewed interest in the management-oriented Certified Information Systems Security Professional and Certified Information Systems Auditor certifications: All registered between 11% and 38% growth last year.

          Certifications are more popular, partly for validating training expenses and pay adjustments with today's cost-conscious executives. Median premium pay for 54 technical certifications has grown a surprising 0.5% over the past two dreadful years (even with a modest 3.3% decline in 2002), led not just by security but also by solid performances last year by certifications in project management, Linux (up 17%), and networking (most notably Novell's Certified Novell Engineer and Master Certified Novell Engineer).

          Also hot: Voice over IP, Wireless Markup Language (WML), DB2, VoiceXML and SAP's Advanced Business Application Programming language skills all grew in value in 2002. Highest paying? Rapid application development/extreme programming, XML, SQL Server, WML and Oracle database skills.

          Hot job segments for 2003, according to our research, are security, network management, enterprise infrastructure and architecture, database, SAP-related development, project management, and project-based work implementing customer-facing systems and processes.

          Want to know what accounts most for IT workers' current predicaments? Career choices they made long before the recession. Those choosing technology specialisations got lucky if they picked the right vendor or niche technology. While missing out on the many benefits specialists enjoyed in the boom times, those who took the generalist path have generally adapted better to today's conditions and have the most employment opportunities.

          Foote is president and chief research officer at Foote Partners, a management consultancy and IT workforce research firm in New Canaan, Connecticut.

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