Careers: Where's the Recovery?

The hiring outlook for the next quarter is better than the status quo, but probably not what IT pros had hoped for.

Where's the recovery? Three months ago, IT staffing specialist Robert Half Technology projected a net five percent increase in hiring for the second quarter. Compared to the year before, that looked good. Welcome, even.

Last week, Robert Half published its third quarter survey of CIOs. Its projection: a net six percent increase in hiring activity.

That's a one-percent change from the preceding quarter -- better than the status quo but lackluster, to say the least.

Every quarter, Robert Half Technology surveys about 1,400 U.S. CIOs to get a feel for their hiring plans. For the upcoming third quarter, 10 percent of CIO respondents plan to hire new IT workers; just four percent project cutbacks.

Robert Half spins its results as encouraging, on balance.

"Many technology executives are feeling optimistic enough about business conditions to add personnel," said Dave Willmer, executive director of Robert Half Technology, in a statement. "Companies that cut staff levels or implemented hiring freezes during the downturn are realizing they need employees now to help upgrade IT systems and prepare their firms for potential growth."

There should be room for growth. In an earlier survey, Robert Half concluded that most IT organizations are understaffed: for example, nearly half (43 percent) of CIOs indicated that they were at least "somewhat understaffed." Of these, 10 percent conceded that they were "very understaffed." (Conversely, just 3 percent of CIOs said that they were "somewhat overstaffed.")

All told, according to Robert Half, almost two-thirds (64 percent) of IT chiefs expressed concern that understaffing could impede their ability to pursue their objectives.

Plenty of Optimism

Although IT chiefs don't anticipate making drastic changes to their IT job rolls, most are enthusiastic about the coming quarter.

More than four-fifths (81 percent) of CIOs said that they are "very" or "somewhat" optimistic about their companies' growth prospects in Q3. Close to half (40 percent) of IT chiefs are likewise optimistic their shops will invest in new IT projects in the coming quarter.

IT chiefs continue to emphasize the importance of recruitment and retention, which Robert Half says is a good indication that the IT hiring rebound has legs.

Just over one-third (34 percent) of CIOs have concerns about their ability to retain top IT performers. This isn't necessarily unusual, however/ Retention is an omnipresent concern, at least among IT chiefs: last year, for example, 31 percent voiced similar concerns in Robert Half's Q3 survey. Recruitment poses an even bigger problem: almost half (43 percent) of CIOs said that they find it "challenging" to recruit skilled IT pros.

As is always the case, there's more demand for some skill sets than for others. For example, Robert Half lists skilled networking (which was cited by almost one-fifth of respondents) along with application development and security (which were both cited by 12 percent of respondents) as especially hot skill areas. Elsewhere, software development, database management, and help desk skills remain popular; each were cited by almost 10 percent of CIOs.

In terms of specific skills, CIOs cite network administration as the most in-demand technical skill (almost 60 percent of IT chiefs expect to fill network administration positions), with desktop support coming in at number two (cited by 55 percent of respondents). Just over half (51 percent) of IT chiefs cite Windows administration as another in-demand technical skill.