Demand for IT pros hits high

Demand for IT workers is at it's highest in six years, supporting yearly salary growth for the nearly one million people employed in such roles.

A survey has shown that demand for ICT workers jumped seven per cent last quarter - pushing it to the highest since the end of 2001.

Jeff Brooks, chair of the Recruitment and Employment Confederation's (REC) IT & Comms sector group, which commissioned the survey, said the demand was spurred by increased corporate investment in IT.

"We believe it's increased business investment to try to get competitive advantage," he said. "We're not surprised at demand, but are always looking for flattening out."

Such demand has spurred salaries. Over the past six years, average weekly pay for ICT workers has jumped by 100 a week.

Advertised salaries for permanent ICT staff rose three per cent from last quarter to an average of 40,300, while contract staff saw a two per cent rise to 67,100. Actual salaries fell slightly from last quarter, but were up between one and three per cent from last year.

The study noted that those looking for a job should keep in mind that the average rates advertised are about 12 per cent higher than those actually received.

The ratio of existing staff to job vacancies has moved from 15 to one in 2003 to just five to one now - meaning IT professionals looking to move on have many job openings to choose from.

"Five to one is a real stretch... For every one job, just five people can do it," he said, adding that such a tight ratio puts stress on the job market.

The results of the REC study was backed up by a separate survey carried out by recruiter CV Screen, which saw IT salaries in the south east jump by 3.4 per cent over the past year. It suggested the average permanent IT salary in that region was just 33,513.

CV Screen's regional account manager Jason Price said: "Our expectation is that the IT Jobs market in the South East region will remain buoyant in 2008, with continuing skills shortages in areas such as PHP, Citrix, .Net and Java."

According to the REC study, within the short term, the industry would have difficulty filling positions for systems developers and administrators, technical sales support and PC support staff, and more generally those with SQL server, ASP and Java skills.

In the past four quarters, demand has risen for permanent systems developers and administrators, technical sales support staff, and content administrators. Demand for contract staff has risen for each quarter over that same period for just one area, systems developers.

"In previous downturns, we've seen a lockdown in system development... we're watching to see signs of that," Brooks said. "It's a bellwether for the market."

Brooks said he expects to see some slowdown over the course of the next year, but nothing severe. Indeed, it might serve to reduce the pressure in the market for certain skills, he said.

User support technicians are one role with long-term falling demand. Demand for that role has seen a drop from a peak in 2001 of 78,000 people working in such positions to just 53,000 now.

"Offshoring... and importing talent happen because it's not available in this country," Brooks said. "In terms of help desk and support, a lot has gone offshore, and that may well continue."

But he added that such roles - while important - are not as highly skilled as others, which are staying in the country. "Offshoring support desk roles is better than offshoring development - though some of that happens as well," Brooks said.