Wages stay strong for in-demand skills

Some organizations are struggling to cope with a talent shortage despite the high unemployment rate

As economists and analysts debate the resurgence of a tech bubble, some organizations are struggling to cope with a talent shortage that is almost unbelievable, given the high unemployment rate. Tech giants in Silicon Valley, the Pacific Northwest, Texas and the Mid-Atlantic corridor are sorting through hundreds of thousands of résumés, searching for the niche skill sets that will take their organizations (and the industry as a whole) to the next level.

This talent shortage comes with a silver lining for the professionals who possess these valuable skills: rising wages. Across the board, we at Yoh are witnessing a 3 percent quarter-over-quarter uptick in tech wages and salaries. However, there are some skill sets for which the demand, and consequently the salaries, are much higher.

Mobility. The demand for workers qualified in mobile and Web application development has greatly outpaced the supply, so the tech professionals who posses these hot niche skills are able to command higher pay. As a result, salaries for full-time workers with this skill set are up 12 percent. For contractors, they're up 30 percent. As these skills become integrated into the curriculum of many college programs and the pool of experienced professionals grows, wages will likely level out. For now, though, the earning potential in this field is strong.

Virtualization. As worker mobility increases and organizations seek to become more efficient, the demand for technology professionals capable of making an organization's desktops and systems virtual has steadily increased. For example, individuals with Citrix and VMware experience could see salaries spike by as much as 4 percent to 6 percent for full-time workers, and contractors and consultants could see up to a 15 percent jump in pay. The workers seeing this spike are developers, security engineers, quality assurance engineers and database management professionals.

Data analysis. Organizations are looking to become smarter in the way they do business. There is an increasing desire to know what to develop, who to develop it for, and what the market demand is for each product or service prior to going to market. In years past, organizations would bring new services or products to market and hope that the consumer would buy it.

Not anymore. Today, there is a growing need for business intelligence analysts who provide data for general business needs, and for functional business analysts, or subject matter experts, who provide discipline-specific data and scope costs.

Generally, there isn't a big disparity between salaries for full-time and contract workers with these skills. Both categories of workers are in increasing demand, and over the next four or five years, we could see pay jump by as much as 30 percent for business analysts and up to 50 percent for functional business analysts.

Network hardware. Though most tech job openings today are on the software side, network hardware skills aren't obsolete just yet. In fact, in the telecom industry, the demand for qualified labor is as strong as it was in the early part of the century, and it's growing. Professionals with experience in telecom construction management and maintenance, cell tower management, and cell server setup are needed to upgrade or replace antiquated cell towers that are struggling to support 4G service.

Over the next four to five years, as the baby boomers who have this experience retire from the workforce, and college graduates with software-heavy skills and career aspirations enter it, we'll likely see a skill gap that will drive up salaries. By 2014, telecom-specific network administrators could see as much as a 20 percent to 25 percent increase that will take salaries into the six-figure range. Industry employers will be challenged to make a career in hardware appealing, particularly when it's evaluated against its software counterpart.

Interestingly, this is a skill set that companies rarely keep in-house, so most of the opportunities here will likely be in contracting and outsourcing.

What will the future bring?

Organizations today are willing to pay rising salaries and wage rates because they have few alternatives. They need talent to return their organizations to their profitable, pre-recession levels. And when the pool of qualified talent is limited, as it is now, organizations will pay whatever they need to to get the resources they need.

However, in the coming years, as the talent pool grows and a younger generation of workers with increasingly commoditized skills enters the workforce, organizations will become more selective in the rates they will pay for qualified talent. As in years past, employers will start to associate set pay grades with specific positions and titles. Additionally, they could instate rate caps that will eventually level salaries off.

As this shift takes place, there are several things you can do to increase your earning potential. First and foremost, build out your curriculum vitae. Several trade schools (such as ITT Tech and Heald College) and colleges (including Stanford University, MIT and the University of California, Berkeley) are offering one-off courses on specific skills or platforms -- Android or Windows Mobile, for example. If these are areas you want to break into or advance in, sign up for a class and build your knowledge.

Just as important as gaining knowledge is the way in which you present it. To really set yourself apart from the competition, you need a full-blown personal marketing document that demonstrates who you are, the projects you've worked on and your future career goals.

In addition, be innovative. If you have a particular talent that you want to be noticed for, don't just add a bullet to your résumé or talk about it in passing. Produce a video that showcases your aptitude and post it on YouTube. Create an online portfolio, or add examples of your work to your LinkedIn or other social network profiles.

Educating yourself and building out your skills is the first step. Creating and promoting your professional brand is going to be what gives you the edge.

What kind of employment is right for you?

If you're deciding what kind of employment is right for you -- full time or contract -- be sure to look beyond just the salary and wage percentage increases listed above, and take into account the entire compensation package. Contractors don't receive benefits like health insurance or perks such as paid time off.

This is why the pay increases for many contract skill sets often outpace those for permanent employees with similar credentials. Contractors use the wage difference to purchase their own insurance and pay quarterly employment taxes. Despite this, the variation between salaried and contract workers is such that right now you can make more money as a contractor than in a full-time, permanent position in many cases.

There should be a lot of exciting opportunities for technology professionals in the coming year. The market is expanding. Opportunities for contract labor are projected to grow 12 percent. When you look at direct hiring for full-time resources, that projection reaches 18 percent to 20 percent. And another trend we'll see even more often is temp-to-hire, which could grow upwards of 20 percent.

Regardless of the skills you possess or the type of position you're pursuing, education and branding will be key to maximizing your earning and career potential.

Tammy Browning is senior vice president at Yoh, a leading provider of high-impact talent and outsourcing services and a unit of Day & Zimmermann. For more information, please visit www.yoh.com or http://blog.yoh.com.

Read more about Management and Careers in Computerworld's Management and Careers Topic Center.

This story, "Wages stay strong for in-demand skills" was originally published by Computerworld.

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