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As IT picks up the pace, can tech workers keep up?

Salaries are up, but pressure is too, as employees hustle to keep current.

April 9, 2012 06:00 AM ET

Computerworld - There's good news and bad news on the salary front for IT professionals this year. With many businesses enjoying renewed growth following an extended period of economic gloom, IT workers saw another year of modest salary increases, and they reported significantly fewer pay cuts, hiring freezes and layoffs.

That's the good news.

The bad news is that tech professionals are working hard for every penny they bring home -- so hard that in many cases the extra workload outweighs the small boost in pay.

For the second year in a row, salaries and total compensation for IT professionals have inched up. According to Computerworld's Salary Survey 2012, average salaries increased 2.1% this year, and average total compensation rose by 1.8%. In all, 56% of the 4,337 respondents to our survey reported an increase in their base salary this year, while only 9% reported a decrease.

Hiring is also up, with 87% of hiring managers who responded to the survey saying that they expect IT staff head count to increase in the next 12 months or remain the same. Only 25% of the total respondents reported hiring freezes, compared with 39% last year. And other negative indicators, such as salary freezes, budget cuts and layoffs, are all in retreat.

IT, it seems, is finally on the road to recovery. Workers even seem to feel better about the economy: Only 19% listed it as a challenge in the latest survey, compared to 28% the prior year.

Running, but not catching up

However, a closer look reveals IT professionals struggling to accept the fact that they might never regain the salary ground lost during the downturn and grappling with heavy workloads, added responsibilities and demands to learn new skills.

Mark Labby, for one, said he's happy to report a 2% pay increase after years of a salary freeze and a decision by his employer, the Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency, to stop paying for on-call time, which resulted in a 5% reduction in his compensation. The PHEAA is now anticipating "astronomical" growth, says the senior database administrator, and it has even posted new job openings.

Though Labby says he feels fairly compensated, he can't help noting the gap between the recent pay boost and the earlier cut, particularly since the modest raise is more than offset by the rising cost of health benefits.

Survey respondents echo Labby's concerns: Only 20% said that they believe their salary is keeping pace with business growth and demands, and 71% said that they have either stayed flat or lost ground financially in the past two years.

Technology professionals are being asked to do more for less.
Tom Silver,

"Technology professionals are being asked to do more for less," says Tom Silver, senior vice president for North America at job search site While demand for IT workers is high -- with an unemployment rate of just 3.8% in this sector compared with the national average of 8.3%, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics -- continued economic uncertainty is keeping the brakes on salaries. "Employers have begrudgingly increased salaries, but tech pros want more," Silver says.

Some IT workers worry that they will be left behind compensation-wise and skills-wise -- and even energy-wise, as they tackle what appears to be a permanently increased workload.

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