RealTime IT News

IT Outlook: Less Confidence, But Plenty of Opportunities

As IT pros head into 2008, they may have a little less confidence in their prospects and the economy at large — but it’s not time to panic, yet.

Consider, for example, the results of staffing firm Spherion’s most recent monthly Employee Confidence Index. The Index showed that confidence among all workers — IT and non-IT — dropped to its lowest level this year, decreasing 3.5 points to 52.9 in November. The Index measures workers' confidence in their personal employment situation and optimism in the macroeconomic environment.

While slightly more workers in November believed they’d keep their jobs over the next 12 months than thought so in October, fewer workers:

  • Across all sectors in November believed the economy was getting stronger than in the previous month
  • Believed that more jobs are available than in the previous month, and
  • Reported being confident in their own ability to find a new job.
  • And IT employees seem to feel these concerns more than most when you consider the results on a quarterly basis, says Spherion regional vice president Sean Ebner. From Q2 to Q3, the Employee Confidence Index for IT fell while the Index for all jobs increased modestly, he says.

    “The IT industry has been pretty resilient to most economic downturns because of global expansions, but people are starting to feel that with the softening of the economy, that that may have an immediate impact in the IT area,” says Ebner.

    While Ebner says he’s not seeing that himself, IT professionals may be comparing today’s conditions to the last time the economy went through a recession, and mentally and financially preparing themselves for the possibility of down times ahead.

    “When the economy went through a recession last time, it hit IT fast and it hit IT hard,” he says. “So people are a little bit skittish about the coming softening in the markets.”

    Fears may be fueled by the fact that in the credit and mortgage services industry, for example, where IT is heavily used, there already have been cost restructurings that have led to workforce reduction in many IT departments.

    “And the tendency is to cut farther than you think you need to go, because you don’t want to have to do it twice,” he says.

    Overall picture optimistic

    Meanwhile, IT staffing provider Robert Half Technology earlier this month released its latest IT Hiring Index, based on interviews with more than 1,400 CIOs from U.S. companies with 100 or more employees. The IT Hiring Index result is down two points from the previous quarter: Thirteen percent of CIOs plan to add IT staff and 3 percent anticipate personnel reductions in the first quarter of 2008. The net 10 percent hiring increase compares with a net 12 percent increase projected last quarter, according to the firm.

    But even if CIO hiring plans are a bit down, that doesn’t mean it’s time to count IT out, the firm cautions.

    “This isn’t enough to fully indicate a trend,” says Robert Half Technology Executive Director Katherine Spencer Lee. “The IT Hiring Index results over the past year were as strong as any we’ve seen in five years or more, and the current results might be a dip, but, overall, the outlook for the industry is positive. CIOs appear optimistic about sustainable hiring increases in the industry as there is still a shortage of highly skilled candidates in a lot of specialties. As the unemployment rate in the United States remains low, and the baby boomer generation nears retirement, companies are struggling to find skilled workers to fill existing and newly created roles.”

    Ebner agrees that it’s still a great time to be in IT.

    “It should not be a challenge to find a good job if you are good and you have marketable skills,” he says. “There are more good jobs out there than good technical people.”

    He sees opportunities for IT pros in nearly every space outside of big iron, from business analysis, to ERP modification and integration, to portal technologies, business intelligence, and data mining.

    And according to Lee, IT professionals in certain specialties — particularly applications and web development, database management, systems analysis and network administration — are often receiving multiple job offers with employers bidding competitively for their services. In addition to raising base pay significantly, employers are more commonly offering performance bonuses and enhancing their benefits packages to secure promising candidates, she says.

    “Technology changes rapidly, making it crucial for IT professionals to constantly learn new skills to keep pace with industry advancements and remain marketable,” Lee says.

    That includes both technology and business skills. “Managers also are emphasizing the importance of business and soft skills as they relate to technology. With IT now integrated into all other aspects of a company’s operations, the demand for IT professionals who are able to tie a firm’s technical capabilities to its business needs is strong," Lee says. "Employers are willing to pay competitive rates to recruit and retain those who can communicate effectively with people outside the computer world, are familiar with the unique needs of various end-users — both within and outside the organization — and are able to use technology to solve business challenges.”