Careers: Hiring Forecast a Bit Brighter

The IT job outlook looks better than it did last year, but 'we're not in the black yet. CIOs are optimistic, and you should be, too.

The IT job outlook looks much better than it did at this time last year, when hiring activity had statistically flat-lined.

According to a new hiring survey from IT staffing specialist Robert Half Technology, this spring, approximately 10 percent of shops expect to hire new personnel on a full-time or contract basis.

Encouraging, yes, but it's still a far cry from the hiring heyday -- early 2007 -- when Robert Half projected a near-20 percent staff expansion.

Every quarter, Robert Half Technology surveys about 1,400 U.S. CIOs to get a feel for their hiring plans. For Q2 of 2010, it projects a net 5 percent increase in IT hiring: 9 percent of IT chiefs plan to add staff, 4 percent plan staffing cuts. This compares with a net 2 percent change last year, when IT chiefs were less sanguine about taking on additional staff.

Dave Willmer, Robert Half's executive director, describes a thawing job environment in which CIOs expressed cautious optimism about economic growth. "Executives are showing early signs of optimism in their business and hiring outlook," said Willmer, in a statement.

Based on Robert Half's survey results, Willmer may be understating the case. Four-fifths of IT chiefs said they're "very" or "somewhat" confident about their companies' growth prospects, and 40 percent of CIOs expect to greenlight new IT projects in the coming quarter.

IT executives also expressed concern about recruitment or retention, two activities that aren't always consistent with a battening-down-the-hatches IT spending mindset. Nearly one-third (31 percent) worry that they'll lose "top performers" (to rivals or other job opportunities) over the coming year. In addition, almost half (45 percent) said they're having difficulty recruiting IT pros with the skills they want.

The IT skills most in demand are network administration and desktop support. According to Robert Half, almost two-thirds (64 percent) of IT chiefs plan to recruit network administrators; similarly, 63 percent of CIOs expect to hire IT staff with skills in Windows administration, whereras just over three-fifths (61 percent) specify a need for desktop support professionals.

"Recruiting efforts are focused in areas such as networking and desktop support, which help keep hardware and software running effectively, and facilitate the implementation of new technologies," Willmer explained.

Hiring activity in the finance sector is especially robust: almost one-quarter (23 percent) of finance leaders plan to hire new IT staff; just 3 percent say they're considering cuts. Finance seems especially hungry for security talent, too: 25 percent of finance CIOs say they've had difficulty finding or recruiting IT professionals with security skills. Other growth sectors include business services (where 11 percent of CIOs plan to hire new IT workers) and manufacturing (9 percent).

Not surprisingly, some regions are more likely to hire than others.

Hiring activity will likely remain depressed in the Midwest and West, for example, but 14 percent of IT executives in Arkansas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, and Texas (the so-called "West South Central" region) expect to hire new employees at some point in Q2. Just 1 percent plan to make cuts.

Similarly, 12 percent of CIOs in the West North Central region (which comprises Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, and South Dakota) anticipate adding staff in Q2. In this case, 3 percent anticipate making staffing cutbacks.