Flat pay turns IT workers into job seekers

Computerworld poll shows most IT staffers haven't seen a pay raise in at least six months, and one out of three is looking to jump ship

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Another contributor to employer discontent is the "doing more for less" drumbeat, said Watson. Consequently, he said IT professionals have been more open to calls from recruiters.

Several people interviewed for this story were reluctant to share their names, but their stories all verified the larger trend illustrated in the salary poll. One person interviewed offered a twist to the numbers.

An energy industry employee, who asked for anonymity, said younger workers have greater job security because they cost less, but the better-paid baby boomers are in danger of job loss.

Broken Ladder

Are you more or less satisfied with your advancement opportunities than you were 6 months ago?

More satisfied: 14%
Less satisfied: 46%
The same: 40%

Exclusive Computerworld survey; September 2010; 343 IT respondents

Now Hiring

Is your company hiring in its IT department?

Yes: 36%
No: 64%

Exclusive Computerworld survey; September 2010; 343 IT respondents

"Among those at risk are those who are doing the same jobs that people are doing three to five years out of college," said this worker. Employees in the best position to survive a cut have business analytical skills and can work with outsourcers, or on an IT system that is core to the company's mission, he said.

Employers, in their new hires, are seeking someone who is both a "brain surgeon and the Porsche mechanic," said another IT professional, who is unemployed and didn't want his name used. Robert Novak, a system architect, said employers are looking for a "precision, laser-guided skill set."

"My strong advice to anybody in the business is make sure you are getting back to school to keep brushing up on your skills," said Novak, something he says he continues to do.

Education pays off

If you can get the right skills training, the payoff, salary-wise, can be impressive.

Four years ago, Michael Rappa, a professor in the computer science department at North Carolina State University, started a master of science in analytics degree program. A maximum of 40 students are enrolled in a 10-month, 9-to-5 session that begins each July. The program stresses teamwork and combines mathematics, computer science and business, with the goal of helping companies turn the vast amounts of data they are collecting into actionable information.

For the most recent graduating class, 97% had a job offer within 90 days of graduation with an average starting salary and bonus of $94,000, which is more than enough to cover the cost of the program.

The program's in-state tuition and fees are about $7,000; out-of-state students pay $21,000. About 90% of the people in the program are U.S. citizens or permanent residents because the kinds of financial help that foreign students typically seek isn't offered. The program's teamwork approach also requires strong English skills, said Rappa.

Cash-Strapped

Have you received a bonus in the past 6 months?

Yes: 31%
No: 69%

Exclusive Computerworld survey; September 2010; 343 IT respondents

Shaky Ground

Do you feel more or less secure in your job than you did 6 months ago?

More secure: 15%
Less secure: 37%
The same: 48%

Exclusive Computerworld survey; September 2010; 343 IT respondents

The ages of the students range from early 20s to early 50s, said Rappa. Employers have been recruiting candidates from the program, but the demand is greater than the number of graduates in any year.

"We had a number of employers come in and walk away empty-handed," said Rappa, who said he would like to expand the program.

Some employees may turn to government work, and Scott Gardner, an Air Force IT manager, said that, in general, the government offers good pay and job security.

"We like to get people from the outside, but the system makes it difficult," said Gardner, in part because all possible internal candidates have to be considered first.

But wherever IT professionals look for new work, pickings will be slim, at least for now. Only 37% of respondents to the poll said their company is currently hiring in its IT department.

Next: Check out Computerworld's 2010 Salary Survey for the latest compensation data.

Copyright © 2010 IDG Communications, Inc.

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