Careers: Little Change Ahead in IT Staffing Levels

Most companies won’t make any changes to their IT staff levels, but those that do expect to add jobs, not cut them. Survey shows what skills are most in demand—and where the jobs are located.

Although CIOs are optimistic about their IT spending projections for the third quarter of 2004, most aren’t convinced that we’re out of the woods yet.

Want proof? According to one prominent IT staffing authority, the vast majority (89 percent) of U.S. companies won’t be changing their IT staff levels in the third quarter of this year. Those that do, however, plan to add, rather than cut, positions—by a factor of almost three to one.

Each quarter, information technology staffing firm Robert Half Technology surveys more than 1,400 enterprise CIOs to assess their hiring plans for the upcoming quarter. The Q3 results are now in, and Robert Half found that just over 11 percent of CIOs plan to make changes to their IT staff levels, with eight percent expecting to add staff and three percent anticipating cuts.

If you compare the Q3 data to Robert Half’s survey data from the second quarter—which projected a net uptick in hiring of 9 percent, the highest level in nearly two years of polling—you might get the wrong idea, however. The truth is that CIOs are overwhelmingly more optimistic than they were even in Q1, when Robert Half projected a net three percent expansion in IT staff levels.

Robert Half’s survey isn’t just restricted to hiring projections. Among other questions, the IT staffing firm traditionally asks CIOs to identify the specific skill sets that are most in demand in their enterprise IT departments. Historically, Microsoft Windows administrators, SQL Server database administrators, and Cisco certified professionals have fared quite well in this aspect of the survey—although the third quarter data suggests that CIOs may now be prioritizing other technology areas instead.

When asked which technical skill sets were most in demand in their IT departments, 84 percent of CIOs specified demand for expertise in Microsoft Windows administration. No surprise there. But 46 percent of CIOs also cited demand for Visual Basic development skills—a new development, in that SQL Server database administration has traditionally been the second most sought-after skill area. Finally, 41 percent of CIOs cited demand for Check Point firewall administration skills, displacing perennial bronze medalist Cisco expertise.

Elsewhere, CIOs were asked to identify the most sought-after specialties within their IT departments. Their responses suggest that the much beleaguered networking industry is once again ascendant: 25 percent specified networking specialties, up from 21 percent in Q2. "Businesses are investing heavily in network security and need skilled IT professionals to assess system vulnerabilities and develop strategies for overcoming them," said Katherine Spencer Lee, executive director of Robert Half Technology, in a statement. "In addition, networking staff are helping organizations improve efficiency by upgrading aging hardware and software."

Another highly sought-after specialty is application development, with 14 percent of CIOs citing an increased need for employees with programming skills.

Not surprisingly, Robert Half found that the companies most likely to expand their IT staff levels are geographically concentrated.

For example, 12 percent of CIOs in West North Central states expect to increase their employment during the third quarter. According to Lee, companies in this region are embracing Microsoft’s .NET platform and are actively recruiting .NET development expertise. “This is fueling demand in the region for [C#] and VB.NET development skills,” she confirms.

Elsewhere, Robert Half says that 12 percent of CIOs in Mid-Atlantic states anticipate increasing their employment in Q3, while only four percent expect to reduce their staff levels.

Finally, some industries seem to be more receptive to staff level increases than others. For example, CIOs in the business services sector are most optimistic about expanding their employment rolls in the third quarter: 15 percent of CIOs in this space anticipate adding employees, while only two percent expect to trim their staff levels. In addition, the wholesale and finance, insurance, and real estate industries also expect employment gains to exceed the national average, according to Robert Half, with a projected 8 percent net hiring increase in Q3.

About the Author

Stephen Swoyer is a Nashville, TN-based freelance journalist who writes about technology.