IT worker demand remains strong despite slow economy

Companies are finding that a low tech unemployment rate and a limited worker supply mean increased demand for IT talent

U.S. tech hiring for the second half of 2011 will increase as the gradually improving economy results in companies updating their IT systems after scaling back during the recession, according to a hiring survey from technology job website Dice.com.

"Several years ago companies cut back pretty far, particularly in infrastructure and technology development," said Tom Silver, senior vice president of North America for Dice Holdings, who spoke about results from Dice.com's recent biannual hiring survey. "They're in a little bit of a state of catch-up ... in terms of their infrastructure and therefore the people they need in order to replace aging hardware and software and deal with security challenges."

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To fill their ranks, 65 percent of the survey's 900 respondents, including hiring managers and recruiters, said they plan on hiring more tech workers in the second half of the year compared to the first six months.

This demand for IT staff means that employers are encountering a competitive marketplace for talent and explains why tech's unemployment rate is half of the national unemployment rate despite the still-improving economy, Silver said.

"The unemployment tech rate ... tends to be half the national average," he said. "So tech unemployment is around 4 percent versus the overall average, which is around 9 percent. So if one is a tech worker, while the market overall is not great, it continues to gradually improve for people with tech skills."

Of the skills employers are seeking, Java development ranked first among the survey's respondents. Survey data also showed that companies need .net developers and staff with experience in the nascent mobile space, which shows major growth potential.

Given the constantly changing state of programming languages, finding talented developers with current skills and relevant industry experience is always challenging, Silver said.

While Dice.com currently lists approximately 1,500 jobs requiring mobile skills, mobile's "growth [is] what's so incredible right now," said Silver. Those figures will probably increase in the coming months to approximately 2,000 or 3,000, compared to about 100 listings last year, he continued, adding that virtualization and cloud computing skills followed a similar trajectory.

With data breaches becoming a regular occurrence, Silver noted "a demand for people who have expertise in data security and network security. Companies are really looking to find people who can help make infrastructure more secure."

And finding the right people has proven more challenging, according to the survey. Compared to last year, 50 percent of the people polled noted an increase in the amount of time required to fill open positions. The inability to find qualified professionals is the main reason for the greater length of time, according to 63 percent of the poll's respondents. This represents an increase of 17 percent from the survey's November results.

Businesses realize that they are competing for talent and have changed their recruiting tactics, said Silver.

More companies will turn to external recruiters to find candidates, with 34 percent of companies surveyed saying they will use this option in the next six months, compared to 29 percent in November.

Employers also understand they have to expand their search area geographically.

"In 2008, 2009, people had [the] right skills and were local," Silver said. "This is not the case anymore."

Boosting paychecks proved a popular option among businesses, with 47 percent saying that new-hire salaries will increase this year compared to 2010. In November, 39 percent of companies held the same belief.

IT professionals looking for a higher salary should "arm themselves with third-party information so that they can be quantitative about what they're asking for rather than just emotional," said Silver.

"They should know that the pendulum has swung back in their favor a little," he said. "The market is tight and employers don't want to lose good people. So there is a chance for them to take advantage of that."

Even with strong corporate IT hiring, the overall economy is slowly bettering and businesses still harbor fiscal concerns, Silver added.

"The environment is changing," he said. "It's not great, but it's improving. [Employers] believe they're going to be hiring more people in the second half of the year. Not dramatically more, but they're feeling better [about the economy]."

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