The recent Moody’s Analytics forecast of 148,000 new technology jobs nationally by the end of 2011 has grabbed plenty of attention — and perhaps a little skepticism from IT professionals who are still searching for employment. Beneath the hype, however, there are some convincing signals that IT hiring is indeed gaining momentum, and not just within the confines of Silicon Valley.
Robert Half Technology’s latest IT Hiring Index and Skills Report details several of those indicators. Based on a quarterly survey of technology executives, the report found that 7 percent of CIOs expect to add employees to their departments in the third quarter of 2011, while 3 percent anticipate cutbacks. The net 4 percent increase is down from the previous quarter, but it nevertheless represents continued good news about the IT employment outlook.
Household-name technology corporations like Google and Facebook may receive the most attention for their hiring plans, but employers in other industries appear to be following their lead. CIOs in retail and manufacturing, for example, anticipate a net hiring increase of 8 percent in the third quarter. Other sectors expecting above-average growth in IT hiring include professional services, transportation, communications and utilities, each projecting a net 5 percent increase this quarter.
Confidence on the Rise
Another encouraging sign is that almost nine out of ten CIOs (87 percent) are confident about their companies’ growth prospects during the third quarter — up from 80 percent in the previous report. More than half (55 percent) of the executives surveyed said they expect increased investment in IT in the third quarter, up 7 percent from the second quarter forecast.
There’s no way to predict whether or when a business will put its money where its confidence is, and many companies are wary of repeating the costly hiring mistakes they made in the past. But the IT job market does appear to be tilting back toward workers, as employers are reporting rising difficulty hiring the people they need. Nearly half (48 percent) of the surveyed CIOs said they are having trouble finding skilled IT professionals, up 5 points from last quarter.
Where Companies Will Invest
Businesses are poised to resume upgrades and installations that were shelved during the downturn. Not surprisingly, they’re eyeing investments that can improve efficiency, save money and help them gain a competitive edge.
For IT professionals, that means the skills in strong demand will tend to center around essential functions such as networking and technical support. These may not be the most glamorous roles in IT, but they will be what companies rely on as they regain momentum.
Asked to name the skill sets in highest demand at their companies, CIOs cited network administration (68 percent), desktop support (66 percent) and Windows administration (56 percent).
There is broad demand for professionals who can help companies operate — and grow — more efficiently and securely. Companies need employees who can help them install and manage proprietary applications and systems, including enterprise resource planning and related software upgrades. They also need professionals who can execute laptop rollouts, support Web development and contribute to social media initiatives.
CIOs were also asked to identify the area in which they are having the most difficulty finding the right IT professionals. Here are their top responses:
1. Networking (cited by 21 percent of CIOs, up from 13 percent last quarter) — For many firms, even when business expansion slowed to a crawl, the complexity of their networks continued to grow. As technology investments resume in full, the need for professionals who can manage multifaceted networks will only intensify. People with a blend of server, software and networking skills are especially valued.
2. Security (16 percent, up from 13 percent) — Competitive companies can’t afford to lose out on potential technology advantages for fear of compromised security. That’s why they need IT professionals who can implement network innovations such as those that empower an increasingly mobile workforce — without increasing vulnerability to security breaches and the loss of confidential data.
3. Applications development (14 percent, up from 11 percent) — As firms expand their initiatives across multiple platforms, from mobile to Web to cloud computing, they rely more heavily on custom-built apps that can serve all their users without requiring a heavy support burden. Development skills in demand include Java, .NET, SharePoint, LAMP, Visual Basic, ASP, ActiveX and C++.
4. Help desk/technical support (12 percent, up from 10 percent) — Systems upgrades and the addition of new employees heighten the demand for IT professionals who can help businesses get the highest return on their technology investments.
Short on Support
CIOs’ ongoing need for skilled support staff won’t surprise anyone who’s followed IT trends over the years. While other priorities have ebbed and flowed, the demand for technical support has remained fairly constant. Technology executives are acutely aware that every minute an employee spends waiting for help is a direct drain on productivity.
Despite that awareness, IT leaders consider their support teams understaffed, according to another recent Robert Half Technology survey. When CIOs were asked to estimate their ideal ratio of technical support staff to internal end users, their average response was 1 to 65 — that is, one support professional for every 65 employees. Their actual ratio fell far short of that mark, at 1 to 112.
The dramatic shortfall suggests that capable support professionals stand a good chance of capturing a hiring manager’s attention as CIOs regain the ability to hire. Executives at smaller companies noted an even wider gap; those firms may be especially rich with opportunities for help desk and support professionals.
Considering Your Options
The signals pointing toward accelerated IT hiring are even more encouraging when you consider that they’re based only on full-time positions and don’t include project-based, consulting or interim engagements. Many employers that were burned by overstaffing in recent years remain cautious about making full-time investments. They’re instead seeking professionals on a temporary basis to implement urgent installations, execute systems infrastructure improvements, provide technical support during workload peaks, and fill other IT functions that will facilitate business growth. These engagements also enable companies to evaluate a professional’s on-the-job performance before making a full-time offer.
Especially during business growth spurts, when IT needs are expanding rapidly, many skilled professionals prefer to work as specialized consultants rather than commit themselves to a long-term engagement. Whether you’re considering such opportunities or interested only in a new full-time position, you may find yourself with more options in the months ahead — especially if your skills align with the ones that businesses are building on.
John Reed is executive director of Robert Half Technology. With more than 100 locations worldwide, Robert Half Technology is a leading provider of technology professionals for initiatives ranging from web development and multiplatform systems integration to network security and technical support. Robert Half Technology offers online job search services at www.rht.com. Follow Robert Half Technology on Twitter at www.twitter.com/RobertHalfTech.