IT Hiring Poised for Skills-Driven Rebound

Some signs indicate that the U.S. might be starting to emerge from the recession. Smart IT hiring managers know that postponing hiring until the recovery is well under way -- and competition for top candidates is in full swing -- could be risky. Employers that act promptly and strategically to recruit and retain IT professionals will have an advantage over those that wait for ideal economic conditions. Here's what next year's hiring environment likely has in store.

A rapid IT rebound. Robert Half International and CareerBuilder recently interviewed more than 500 hiring managers and 500 workers about the current and future employment markets. This year's report suggests that IT will be a focal point for postrecession hiring as employers prepare for pent-up project demands. In fact, when asked which departments within their organizations will add positions first once the economy turns around, "technology" was the hiring managers' top response.

Indeed, IT staff and systems will be central to many businesses' recovery plans. In a separate survey, Robert Half Management Resources asked 1,400 CFOs where they are most likely to invest once the economy improves. Forty percent cited new or upgraded IT systems -- more than twice the percentage of respondents picking any other choice. When we asked CIOs which systems they are likely to upgrade in the next 12 months, the top responses were hardware, servers, wireless devices, and database software and administration.

It's only a matter of time before IT hiring heats up to white-hot levels to support technology investments. Forward-looking organizations won't wait until then to add new hires.

Challenges finding qualified talent. One of our report's more surprising findings was that, even though there is a large pool of candidates, some hiring managers are having a hard time finding skilled professionals. In fact, 47% of managers said a shortage of qualified applicants was their top hiring challenge. In IT, this difficulty will only intensify when conditions improve and employers compete for the personnel needed to carry out technology initiatives delayed by the downturn.

Demand for specific skills. Keeping abreast of the skills in highest demand can help hiring managers anticipate staffing challenges. According to the Robert Half Technology 2010 Salary Guide, there will be continued demand for employees in the areas of network administration, virtualization, application and Web development, and help desk and desktop support next year.

A focus on retention efforts. Intensifying competition for skilled IT professionals should inspire hiring managers to focus not only on recruiting staffers, but also on protecting morale and building loyalty. Nearly half (45%) of employees surveyed for the report said they plan to change employers, careers or industries when the economy recovers. As a result, the ability to retain top performers and quickly bring new ones on board may make the difference between postrecession staffing success and continuing struggles.

A reassessment of staffing needs. Despite your business's desire to grow as soon as conditions allow, keep in mind that quickly adding full-time employees when conditions brighten can be just as costly as cutting too severely during difficult times. Overstaffing followed by layoffs damages both morale and productivity. By strategically augmenting full-time staff with highly skilled project-based professionals, organizations can bolster their retention of top performers as well as their ability to respond to future economic shifts.

Dave Willmer is executive director of Robert Half Technology, a provider of IT professionals on a project and full-time basis.

Next: Opinion: Develop your own long-term game plan

Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.

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