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The best industries for IT compensation

Pick the right industry and watch your salary, and future job prospects, rise.

By Thomas Hoffman
November 16, 2009 06:00 AM ET

Computerworld - The 1.6% pay increase reported by government IT professionals in Computerworld's 2009 Salary Survey might not seem like much, but it's better than what Bruce Walton and other California state IT workers have seen recently.

Since July, Walton and other employees for the state of California have been forced to take three furlough days per month because of budget constraints. The furlough days result in a 14% pay cut, and the policy is expected to remain in place at least throughout the state's current fiscal year, says Walton, a network administrator for the California Energy Commission in Sacramento.

Times have been lean for Walton and other California state workers since their union obtained a 5% raise in 2006, Walton's first year in his role. Despite the state's budget problems, Walton, a 17-year IT veteran, says he likes his job, along with the security that a government position offers. So he's standing pat and hoping that his base pay improves "down the road."

According to this year's survey results, there are a handful of sectors where compensation inched up from last year, including energy/utilities (1.3%). And demand for IT professionals in that sector continues to be strong, says Dave Willmer, executive director of Robert Half Technology in Menlo Park, Calif., and a Computerworld columnist. (Read Willmer's thoughts on a skills-driven IT hiring rebound.)

Meanwhile, some industries where compensation for IT professionals has historically lagged, such as education (1.4%), are experiencing a remuneration renaissance. A key factor: When the economy is down, more people go back to school to earn degrees to help them in the job market, says Willmer. As enrollments go up, schools require more IT support professionals, says David Van De Voort, an IT workforce specialist at Mercer LLC in Chicago.

Where the Pay Is Hot

Here are some of the industries where IT compensation is on the upswing, with a look at some of the factors behind these trends.

Government: Job security, solid pension plans and attractive benefits are a few of the reasons why government IT professionals say the public sector offers favorable career prospects, despite the revenue shortages that are dogging cities and states. Plus, federal stimulus money is leading to more IT projects, which in turn are sparking demand for IT professionals at the federal level.

Still, there are drawbacks to working in the public sector, including a lack of mobility, since senior IT workers tend to remain in their roles for quite a while, say some government IT professionals.

Although he didn't receive a raise this year because of budget constraints, Dennis O'Connor, a programmer/analyst for the city of Alexandria, Va., says he enjoys the autonomy he has in his role supporting an application that's used by the city's housing, building and fire code enforcement officials.

Plus, the city's pension plan is better than anything O'Connor has received in private sector jobs. "Already, the retirement I built up here after nine years is more than I got from Wachovia after 26 years," says O'Connor.



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