Careers: Downturn? What Economic Downturn?

The hiring outlook for early 2008 looks as solid as ever, with double-digit IT job growth forecast by at least one industry watcher

Leading economic indicators might look dour and some market-watchers -- Gartner Inc. among them -- continue to forecast economic tumult in the coming year. However, all is not lost. In fact, IT staffing specialist Robert Half says the hiring outlook for the first quarter of 2008 looks as solid as ever.

According to the company, fully 13 percent of CIOs plan to add IT staff in Q1 of 2008, while just three percent anticipate reducing personnel. To be sure, the net increase in jobs (10 percent) is down a bit from the previous quarter (12 percent), but it’s still double-digit growth. What’s more, nearly 82 percent of respondents don’t anticipate making any changes to their staffing levels over the next three months.

Every quarter, Robert Half Technology takes the pulse of the North American IT job market, surveying more than 1,400 CIOs to get a feel for their hiring plans in the coming quarter. This time around, the IT staffing specialist identified a few encouraging trends. In Q1 of 2008, as in previous quarters, business growth will continue to be a big driver, with 27 percent of CIOs citing business growth as a key reason they expect to expand their IT departments.

Elsewhere, Robert Half says, CIOs identified burgeoning customer and/or end-user support requirements (20 percent), along with system migration needs (19 percent), as key hiring factors. In most cases, economic uncertainty doesn’t seem to have hampered the new development or IT spending plans of many North American enterprises, the firm reports. "Companies are investing in a range of technology initiatives, including Web 2.0 development, wireless communication, and network security," said Katherine Spencer Lee, executive director of Robert Half Technology, in a statement. "Firms recruiting IT professionals to support these projects are looking for talent with the right mix of technical expertise, industry-specific experience, and soft skills."

Windows, Network Admin Skills In Demand

As usual, Windows administration is the most sought-after technical skill set in IT departments, according to an overwhelming majority (nearly 75 percent) of CIOs polled. Other in-demand skills include network administration (specifically those with Cisco and Nortel expertise), which was cited by 70 percent of respondents; database management (with Oracle and Microsoft SQL Server in the spotlight), which was mentioned by 59 percent; and firewall administration, which was identified by 54 percent of respondents.

For the second quarter running, nearly one-fifth (19 percent) of CIOs said networking was the job category experiencing the most growth. Other high-growth job categories include help desk/end-user support (at 14 percent) and application development (at 12 percent).

Surprisingly, the mid-Atlantic region -- and not traditional hiring hotbeds such as the Southeast or Southwest -- is poised to benefit the most from any expansion in hiring activity: 20 percent of executives in this region expect to add IT staff, while just three percent forecast personnel cutbacks; that makes for a net 17 percent hiring increase. "Web developers are in particular demand in the region, as companies require engineers to launch new online initiatives and enhance existing applications," Lee reports.

Elsewhere, the West South Central region should also record strong employment gains. A whopping 16 percent of CIOs in these states expect to expand their IT departments, while none anticipates staffing reductions.

"Businesses in the area are investing in systems and application upgrades, which is creating a need for additional IT staff,'' says Lee.

Finally, hiring tends to fluctuate by industry. Executives in the business services sector are most optimistic about hiring in the next quarter, according to Robert Half; fully 20 percent of CIOs in this category expect to add IT staff, while just two percent anticipate cutbacks.

Other hot industries include the finance, insurance, and real estate (with a projected 16 percent increase in staffing levels), and the transportation sector, where CIOs expect a 14 percent increase.