IT hiring continues to show gains

But some industry groups say that questions remain about the overall strength of hiring

CIOs plan increased hiring in the second quarter, though not at the pace of the first quarter, according to the results of a new survey.

Robert Half Technology, a national recruiting firm that conducts quarterly surveys of CIOs, on Wednesday reported that 8% of the 1,400 CIOs it interviewed by telephone this quarter said that they plan to expand their IT departments in the second quarter, while 5% said that they expect cutbacks.

This leaves a net hiring gain of 3%, which John Reed, executive director of the IT recruiting firm, said is in the normal hiring range, though a decrease from the first quarter's net gain in hiring of 10%. Reed attributed the strong first-quarter figure to new budgets and projects.

IT hiring overall has been gaining, according to two different reports based on U.S. Department of Labor hiring data.

TechServe Alliance, an industry group that analyzes government data, reported that IT employment reached 4.08 million last month, passing the previous all-time high in 2008. IT employers had shed some 250,000 jobs during the recession.

TechServe put the number of IT jobs added in January at 13,300.

Overall, IT employment grew 3.4% in 2011 and 1.5% in 2010, the group reported.

Not everyone agrees the hiring trends are this robust.

The U.S. labor data can be parsed many ways, and analysts make different decisions about what categories to include or not include in the category of IT.

For example, Foote Partners counted 3,100 new IT jobs in January for those job categories it believes are typically associated with IT hiring. Working against IT hiring are budget cuts at the state, local and federal levels, Foote reported.

The Labor Department's report on last month's hiring is due to be released on Friday.

If the economy doesn't backtrack, Reed said he expects to see future gains in Robert Half Technology's hiring index similar to the forecast pace of hiring in the second quarter.

The improvements are not dramatic, but "there are more IT workers going to work, and it's growing every quarter," said Reed.

According to Reed, 85% of CIOs surveyed by Robert Half Technology said that they plan to maintain current staffing levels, which means that if an IT employee quits the employer will likely fill that position.

The improvement in IT hiring is positive sign, but there are questions about the overall health of the workforce.

The number of science and engineering jobs, which include some IT positions, has been increasing but not at a rate that's much different from the overall workforce, according to a study by the Population Reference Bureau.

Patrick Thibodeau covers SaaS and enterprise applications, outsourcing, government IT policies, data centers and IT workforce issues for Computerworld. Follow Patrick on Twitter at @DCgov, or subscribe to Patrick's RSS feed . His email address is pthibodeau@computerworld.com.

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