Hiring Ticks Up Again

As more projects get green-lighted, IT looks for adept workers to get the job done.

The nine-member IT staff at the National Aquarium in Baltimore already supports 350 full-time workers, 700 volunteers and 16,000 animals. They maintain business systems, admissions and ticketing software, and specialized animal care systems.

Although this IT team has been able to handle these diverse tasks so far, Chief Technology Officer Hans Keller says he needs more bodies to tackle what's ahead.

Keller's plan to add to his staff in 2008 isn't unique.

Computerworld's Vital Signs survey of IT managers shows a trend toward more hiring. Some 39% of those surveyed said they expect to increase their head count this year, up from the 33% who planned to hire last year. The latest survey also found that 56% expect no change in their IT staff size in 2008, and only 5% expect a decrease.

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"We're seeing more demand for workers as companies roll out more and more technology, and the environment is competitive for those with really good skill sets," says Katherine Spencer Lee, executive director of Robert Half Technology, an IT staffing firm in Menlo Park, Calif.

Robert Half Technology is already seeing the uptick. The firm's quarterly survey of 1,400 CIOs found that 12% expected to increase staff size in the last quarter of 2007. Moreover, Spencer Lee says she expects even more hiring in the year ahead based on what she's hearing from clients.

The Society for Information Management is predicting a similar trend. A recent survey of 130 CIOs and IT executives from 112 companies found that 75.4% expect to maintain or increase their IT staffs. The survey also found that attracting, developing and retaining professionals is the No. 1 concern among IT leaders.

IT managers, however, aren't just adding bodies, as they did in the frenzied hiring boom of 10 years ago. Rather, they're looking for key skills to help meet specific business goals and objectives.

"I think for the next year, we're going to see a slight increase, but I don't think we're going to have a frenzied increase; it's a more thought-out process," says Jack Harrington, president of Atlantic Associates Inc., an IT staffing firm in Boston.

Harrington says there's a need to ramp up IT departments to handle the growing number of initiatives spawned by companies that are realizing IT can help them perform better. As a result, he expects to place 20% to 25% more IT workers in 2008 than the 250 or so he placed in 2007.

David Foote, CEO and chief research officer at research firm Foote Partners LLC in New Canaan, Conn., says he too expects an uptick in IT hiring. He says companies are expanding the roles and responsibilities of IT workers, so more positions require not only technical know-how, but also strong business acumen. Workers with those two skills sets - and particularly individuals who specialize in certain business disciplines, such as marketing or finance - are in high demand.

"That kind of knowledge has really put a premium on these hybrid workers," Foote says.

IT Worker Shuffle

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