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Consulting will remain bright spot for IT employment

published on August 29, 2003

Domestic IT employment will continue to lag in the fourth quarter of 2003, with slight improvements in select industries and regions for techies with certain skills, according to a survey released this week by Robert Half Technology, a global IT staffing company and division of Robert Half International.

The survey of more than 1,400 U.S. CIOs, conducted for Robert Half by International Communications Research of Media, Penn., polled a scientifically drawn random sample of CIOs at U.S. companies with 100 or more employees.

More than 85 percent of those polled said their staffing plans would remain unchanged. Nine percent said they'd be hiring, and another 4 percent of CIOs said they'd be trimming staff. Executives at companies with 1,000 or more employees were most optimistic about their hiring plans. Thirteen percent of CIOs at these firms said they expect to add personnel and 6 percent forecast staff reductions.

IT consultants may be in slightly higher demand in the fourth quarter, as well, noted Terry Phillips, branch manager and expert on IT hiring trends with Robert Half Technology in Columbus, Ohio.

Promising Industries

Not surprisingly, industries showing the most potential in terms of economic expansion will be also the sectors that anticipate hiring more IT talent, according to Phillips. These industries include:

  • Healthcare, which continues to respond to HIPPA regulations and patient privacy concerns;
  • Finance and mortgage banking, buoyed by attractive interest rates;
  • And insurance, especially companies benefiting from heightened concerns over personal and corporate security.

As the end of year approaches, IT workers should watch for opportunities at companies forecasting expansions of product lines and new services to clients, said Phillips. "I think the feeling is that its time to start thinking about the investment piece again," he said.

Even these promising signs may be slightly tempered, as companies ushering in year-end financials hire more conservatively. This may bring a slight upswing in contingency hiring in some segments of manufacturing, noted Phillips.

Anecdotally, technology workers have been saying for months that consulting work continues to be a bright spot in the IT landscape. "Before it was something that you just heard of in the mid-'80s," said Robert Keeme, a contract worker in Mesa, Arizona. "Consultants were these $2,000 suit wearing cats... now everyone is a consultant and they get paid for it." Hang a shingle out and you might make $50 an hour as a consultant, he added.

Skills in Demand

Skills in hot demand for consultants or full-time workers include:

  • Microsoft Windows administration (XL, 2000, NT)
  • SQL Server
  • Cisco network administration
  • Visual Basic development
  • Oracle database development

.NET administration and development in the East South Central area of the United States may also see an up-tick in demand, according Robert Half.

"While job cuts have fallen and there have been some positive signs of an uptick in manufacturing, there has yet to be any significant indication of a rebound in capital spending that would support the view that employers will begin hiring en masse," says Cobb.

Many IT skills have grown increasingly commoditized, however, with an abundance of credentialed techies with initials such as MCSE and CNE, said Keeme. This glut of credentialed workers means people are no longer commanding the salaries they did in the heady dot-com era.

Top talent in each of these categories will continue to be most attractive to corporations, according to Phillips. Candidates with strong soft skills will also continue appeal to hiring companies.

"Going outside of the technology side, I think what most companies are focused on are communication skills," said Phillips. "Outside of their technology skills, soft skills are something that's really important to employers at the same time. They're looking for people that are very business savvy."

Regions With the Most Potential

Nationally, a net of 5 percent of CIOs said they planned to bring on new talent, but some areas of the country appear hotter than others.

The East South Central area of the United States -- Kentucky, Tennessee, Mississippi, and Alabama -- are predicted to lead the nation in terms of IT hiring, said Phillips. Fifteen percent of CIOs plan to expand their IT departments and 3 percent anticipate cutbacks in personnel.

CIOs in the Mid-Atlantic states -- New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania -- forecast employment gains, with 13 percent of technology executives planning to add staff. Just 2 percent expected to reduce headcount.

Robert Half's fourth quarter hiring projections for 2003 represent a net 2 percent decrease in hiring projections from the third quarter of the same year and a net 10 percent decrease in anticipated hiring for fourth quarter 2001.

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david southgate
writing for living.