As 2002 dawns, job market has some bright signs

So you think the most influential stories on the current IT employment market are layoffs, spending cuts, hiring slowdowns, canceled projects and anal-retentive CFOs?

          So you think the most influential stories on the current IT employment market are layoffs, spending cuts, hiring slowdowns, canceled projects and anal-retentive CFOs? Don't get me wrong things are definitely tough. But it seems we're being spoon-fed a little too much gloom and doom.

          There are plenty of other trends and new developments that translate into bona fide opportunities for any IT worker mapping out a new near-term job strategy. Let's start 2002 right by focusing on a few things that caught my attention in my company's latest research survey, involving nearly 2000 employers.

          -- Networking jobs are earning more respect. In spite of the recession, the e-business juggernaut continues to gain momentum, and networking-related jobs have benefited significantly. In fact, base pay for network engineering and operations professionals grew nearly 12% in 2001, well above the 7.4% average increase for IT. The following trend best underscores their elevated status: Not since Lotus Notes workers in the mid-'90s have I seen employers methodically shifting discretionary bonus pay into base salary for a particular group of IT workers. It's a rare and supreme vote of confidence after all, unlike bonuses, base salaries are rarely reduced in a bad year plus a bold statement that certain IT jobs are worthy of more serious investment.

          -- Security is on the rise. Many executives now rightly believe that high-profile web attacks, electronic fraud and privacy breaches can seriously damage their companies' reputations and impact revenue generation. Our research indicates that only one in four companies has a dedicated security department, but this will soon change now that senior executives are playing more direct roles in setting policy and determining where and how to invest in protection. Technical skills in areas such as computer forensics, intrusion detection, firewalls, authentication/authorization and security auditing are in highest demand; our surveys indicate that premium bonus pay for security certifications has risen nearly 19 percent since the first quarter of 2001, while base pay for corporate security positions grew 10 percent. But many employers will covet the following qualities even more: a broad view of security; being adept at corporate politics; business knowledge, aptitude and skills; good relationship management, team and project skills; and the ability to market, sell and negotiate outcomes.

          -- Flexibility makes a difference. Tight job markets favour those candidates with the fewest restrictions. Among industries, hiring in defence, pharmaceuticals, hospitals and health care has been expanding. The latter two will spend billions to comply with new regulations for protecting the security and confidentiality of medical records, and that will require system upgrades to meet a 2003 deadline. Furthermore, Lockheed Martin recently won a government contract worth as much as $US200 billion to build warplanes, and recent terrorist events will stimulate development of weapons systems. Geographically, demand for all IT jobs has recently been highest in the Midwest and South and lowest in the Northeast and the San Francisco Bay area.

          Finally, employers are eager to invest in improving customer relationships, reducing costs quickly and getting more from existing operations (as opposed to investments in innovative products, for example). Expect more probing about your experience in several areas, but especially in risk management, benchmarking/metrics, project management, return on investment, negotiation, outsourcing and supply chain management.

          Actors are admonished not to read media coverage about themselves lest they begin believing it. This also applies to IT workers, who will find payoffs this year for astute analysis, flexibility and unwavering optimism about their job options.

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

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