2008 set to be a bumper year for IT graduates

Career placements for IT graduates has finally recovered from the dot com burst and looks set to overtake the national average across all sectors for graduate job placements.

In 2003 career placements for Australian IT graduates searching for full-time work was at its lowest ebb; 68.1 per cent compared to a national average across all sectors of 80.1 per cent.

Since then IT graduate placements have climbed to 83 per cent for 2007, and are expected to continue to rise as the demand for skilled IT workers grows, according to the not-for-profit research and careers education body Graduate Careers Australia (GCA).

"There were fairly low employment prospects for IT graduates, as there was for the entire IT sector which was fairly poor for five or six years," said Bruce Guthrie, research manager for GCA.

According to Guthrie, IT graduates are just now coming back to a position where their employment figures reflect the figures of graduates across all job sectors.

"For example, last year in our latest destination survey which takes place about four months after people have finished their degrees, 83% of IT graduates who wanted a full time job were in full time employment."

Those figures are still slightly off the pace of the GCA's national average for all graduates of 84.5 per cent, but are expected to continue to rise.

"They were hugely behind the national average. It has gone from 70.5 per cent in 2004, to 73.7 per cent in 2005, 78.8 per cent in 2006 to 83 per cent last year. So it's going in the right direction," Guthrie said.

"I would expect it to continue and certainly the projections from the Department of Employment and Workplace Relations, as they were before the election, also indicated a continued recovery in the demand for IT graduates and IT employers in general."

Guthrie explained that it was important to note that these figures do not represent the situation of IT workers in general.

"What you need to keep in mind with these figures is that they are new graduates with varying amounts of experience, and in many cases little, if any, experience. So it can take them a little longer to find work than somebody who has been in the labour market for a couple of years," he said.

While experienced IT workers are always in high demand, the figures demonstrate that the market for new IT graduates in general has not kept pace with graduate levels across all job sectors.

"Just to give you a further flavour, in the year 2000 the employment figures for computer science graduates was 88.2 per cent when employment figures for all graduates was 83.6 per cent. So there they were over 4 percentage points ahead of the national figure and following that they dropped well below before starting their long-term recovery."

"So job prospects were in a hole and quite a deep hole. They are improving but they haven't quite caught up to equate with the job prospects for all graduates," Guthrie said.

In terms of salaries, IT graduates began their careers on a median starting salary of $43,200 in 2007.

"That's a baseline group, we're talking about new graduates aged less than 25 in their first full time job in Australia, so its people without experience at all. Anybody with more experience would obviously attract a greater salary," Guthrie said.

In 2006 that figure stood at $42,000, and in 2005 the median salary was $39,900. In 2003, the worst year for IT graduate placements, the median salary was $38,000.

But despite falling just short of graduate employment levels across all sectors, IT graduates did enjoy a slightly higher median salary of $42,000 compared to $40,800 for all graduates in 2006.

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Simon Lynch, national director of technology for recruitment consultancy Michael Page International, believes that the higher salary levels of graduates reflect a drop in IT course enrolments and an increased demand for skilled IT workers.

"There are obviously less people who are completing IT courses and therefore less IT graduates, so supply and demand has a definite impact on increasing salaries for them. There's less graduates coming out, which is probably why we're seeing a bit of an increase on the back of that," he said.

He believes burgeoning IT fields, such as unified communications, and a short supply of skilled workers to fill positions within these emerging technologies are contributing to this increase.

"Voice is quite pertinent at the moment; there are a lot of projects and stuff happening within the voice space. It is definitely an area we are seeing candidates in short supply and increased demand."

Michael Page International is anticipating a 6 per cent growth in salaries for IT professionals over the course of 2008, and Lynch doesn't forecast a return to the poor graduate recruitment figures of 2003.

"Anyone who is in IT now and wants to be in IT is employed. There are very few people out there who are struggling to find work, that's a fair indication that everyone is in demand."

But he stresses that financial rewards should not be the key motivator for IT graduates plotting their career path.

"Personally I think career development should be the key decider. For the sake of a couple of thousand dollars in your first year as a graduate over the career and opportunities that are going to present themselves afterwards, I think you'd be crazy to do if for the dollars as opposed to the career development," he said.

"Things that haven't really been a factor five years ago are becoming more of a factor now. Things like environmental policy, work/life balance within the business, those sort of factors are really becoming a lot more pertinent for the Generation Y people who are coming through now."

Copyright © 2008 IDG Communications, Inc.

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