Shaky Economy Slows IT Job Growth

The state of IT is … well, it could be better, at least when it comes to jobs and budgets. That’s the takeaway from a few recent surveys. The other takeaway –count your blessings, because it could be worse.

Robert Half Technology recently released its quarterly IT Hiring Index and Skills Report, which noted that 11 percent of 1,400 CIOs surveyed expect to add staff in the fourth quarter of 2008 and 3 percent forecast personnel reductions.

It’s nice to see that those numbers aren’t reversed, but worth noting that that net 8 percent increase compares with a net 10 percent increase projected by the firm last quarter.

In its June report, Robert Half found that 14 percent of CIOs expect to add information technology personnel, while 4 percent planned staff reductions.

Companies are being judicious with their hiring plans, evaluating economic conditions and business demands before adding full-time IT staff, Katherine Spencer Lee, executive director of Robert Half Technology, said in a statement.

This week, Forrester released a report on the impact of the economic downturn on tech spending. The survey shows that 43 percent of 950 firms have already cut their overall IT budgets in 2008 in reaction to the slowdown in the global economy, while 24 percent of firms have put discretionary spending on hold.

Goldman Sachs also expects IT spending growth this year to drop to 4 percent, down from its 6 percent projections, and it expects that companies will at least partly make up the difference with internal IT staff cuts.

It’s not the stuff of the Great Depression, of course, but in shaky economic times any hint of pullbacks sets off some alarms.

It’s impossible to alleviate all concerns, but there are some nuggets of good news found within these recent reports that are worth noting.

Bright spots

IT pros in the Middle Atlantic region, for example, will be happy to learn that 16 percent of CIOs there plan to expand their IT departments, with just 1 percent expecting to reduce them, for a net 15 percent increase (seven points above the national average), according to Robert Half.

Work in the transportation sector (which Robert Half defines as also including communications and utilities)? Good for you, as 17 percent of CIOs plan to add IT staff and just 1 percent anticipate personnel reductions.

Interestingly, the firm also has discovered that the No. 1 reason now for IT hiring is increased customer and end-user support, which may explain why help desk/technical support was cited as the job area experiencing the most growth overall.

And regardless of where you live or what you do, keep in mind that most CIOs surveyed by Robert Half — 83 percent — say they will maintain current staffing levels. As for Forrester’s findings, nearly 30 percent of respondents say that economic conditions haven’t impacted their overall IT budgets.

And the media, entertainment, and leisure industry has been the least impacted of all — 39 percent of IT departments in those markets have cut budgets, compared to the financial services industry where the impact has been the most dramatic, with 49 percent of IT shops cutting spending in the wake of the freefall in the housing and mortgage market.

Neither of these findings should come as much of a surprise (back to that Great Depression comment): Haven’t people always looked to escape from economic woes at the movies (and these days, at the Wii, with an Xbox and so on).

Also worth pointing out is that another recent Forrester report shows at least one area where IT spending seems safe: Spending on IT security will continue to grow next year, according to more than 1,200 North American enterprise and SMB security decision makers.

[cob:Special_Report]Twenty-one percent of companies expect to increase their IT security budgets in 2009, while nearly three-quarters of those surveyed expect no cutbacks in their security spending. Only 6 percent of respondents anticipate having to cut their security budget next year despite the current economic uncertainty, Forrester says.

This reflects the fact that companies are really starting to get it when it comes to data protection and business continuity. More than half the respondents said that protecting corporate IP and customer data was their top priority for the next 12 months, and 42 percent said it was very important to have business continuity and disaster-recovery plans in place, up nine points from last year.

This article originally appeared on bitITa Planet

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