Small Increase Predicted in Demand for IT Workers

In a jittery economic climate, companies seem to be hedging their bets when it comes to hiring new IT workers.

The latest news on the IT hiring outlook is something of a mixed bag.

U.S. firms expect to add IT personnel over the next quarter, but few are contemplating aggressive expansions. Instead, the hiring outlook seems subdued: companies are hedging their bets, or taking a wait-and-see attitude, according to IT staffing specialist Robert Half Technology.

Every quarter, Robert Half Technology surveys more than 1,400 North American CIOs to get a feel for their hiring plans in the coming quarter.

It isn't as if IT organizations aren't hiring, of course: 11 percent of shops plan to add IT staff over the coming quarter, and just 3 percent anticipate making cuts. However, the net hiring increase (8 percent) is a drop off from the previous quarter, when Robert Half projected an uptick of 10 percent. For the second quarter of 2008, the company anticipated a net hiring increase of 12 percent, and a 10 percent increase for Q1.

Robert Half's Q4 tally clearly reflects a cooling-off period.

"Companies are being judicious with their hiring plans, evaluating economic conditions and business demands before adding full-time IT staff," said Katherine Spencer Lee, executive director of Robert Half Technology, in a statement.

The Robert Half survey is the latest in a series of mixed reports from market watchers. A recent survey from research giant Gartner Inc. concluded that IT organizations are becoming more cautious on the hiring tip –-- hedging their bets in case of potential budget cuts. (see

The Gartner survey cited a year-over-year decline in the number of organizations that expect to hire additional IT personnel. Firms are still hiring, Gartner stressed -- but not as aggressively as they have in the past.

According to Robert Half, IT organizations that do plan to add staff are primarily looking to fill positions in specific areas. "Organizations are directing recruitment efforts toward professionals who can provide essential services -- such as help desk and networking -- and support the launch of Web 2.0 based functionality," said Spencer Lee.

In the past, IT chiefs were most likely to cite business growth as a primary driver for increased hiring. In this report, however, a plurality of CIOs (25 percent) cited customer service or end-user support as the main reasons they expect to add IT staff in the coming quarter.

It's the first time in 22 quarters -- when the firm began asking the question -- that business growth didn't top the list. To be sure, 23 percent of IT chiefs did cite business growth as a key driver, which was good enough for the number-two spot on the list. Still another indicator of growth -- enterprise-wide application development or deployment efforts – placed third on the list of most important drivers, cited by just over one-fifth of respondents.

Where the Jobs Are

If you're an IT pro looking for employment, the Middle Atlantic region might be your best bet: 16 percent of IT chiefs in that region plan to add IT personnel, while just 1 percent anticipate cutbacks. A Midwest region that includes Illinois, Indiana, Wisconsin, and Michigan was second, with a net hiring increase of 13.

"Tier-1 help desk professionals are in strong demand in the Middle Atlantic states, as well as individuals with .NET development and Java 2 Enterprise Edition skills," said Lee. "Companies are quicker to hire IT candidates in this region, particularly at the entry-to-mid-levels, because these professionals are needed for applications support, Web site development and systems upgrades."

Overall, there's strong demand for IT pros with expertise in network administration: 70 percent of CIOs cited a need for networking pros; 69 percent of IT chiefs cited demand for IT workers with Windows skills (particularly Windows Server 2000 and 2003); 69 percent also cited strong demand for desktop support professionals.

About the Author

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