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IT job trends: The buck starts here

Best IT job bets in 2003 and beyond

It's tough to get a firm grip on the state of the IT job market, given today's ragged worldwide economic conditions,...

cascading reductions in force, and the unrelenting pace of technological change. Career planning for IT workers is downright confusing, whether you're employed, unemployed or underemployed. For those pondering the next step in their IT careers, this edition of the IT Career Expert newsletter nets some of the best (and worst) bets when it comes to different technical skills, industries and geographic locations.

The buck starts here

2002 was a tough year for IT pay. Total compensation for 85 IT positions tracked by Foote Partners declined by an average of 2.8%, with cash bonuses falling by 32%. This research was conducted using input from 32,000 IT professionals (see Methodology).

Bucking the downward trend were corporate security jobs (up an average of 5.5% in base pay and 3.3% in total compensation), plus jobs for experienced networking professionals and for application systems developers working in e-commerce-related areas.

Moreover, premium pay for security certification bonuses rose 11.3% in value in 2002 and an even more impressive 31% over the past two years, according to our research. The growth was due largely to several GIAC technical niche certifications from the SANS Institute and renewed interest in the management-oriented Certified Information Systems Security Professional and Certified Information Systems Auditor certifications. All registered between 11% and 38% growth last year.

Median premium pay for 54 technical certifications has grown a surprising 0.5% over the past two dreadful years (even with a modest 3.3% decline in 2002), led not just by security but also by solid performances recently by certifications in project management, Linux (up 17%), and networking (most notably Novell Inc.'s Certified Novell Engineer and Master Certified Novell Engineer).

Also hot: skills in voice over IP, Wireless Markup Language (WML), DB2, VoiceXML, SAP AG's ABAP language, and NetWare; all these skills grew in value in 2002. The highest paying? Rapid application development/extreme programming, XML, SQL Server, WML and Oracle database and enterprise applications skills.

Foote Partners' best bets for short- and long-term career direction:

  • Security management
  • Network management
  • Enterprise infrastructure and architecture
  • SAP-related development
  • Wireless
  • Project management
  • Project-based work implementing customer-facing systems and processes
  • Databases
  • Business technology

Are you 'geographically' challenged?

Do you live in a location that is helping or hurting your chances for a good job in IT? Monthly metropolitan area employment statistics issued by the Department of Labor provide some clues. December 2002 statistics, available at DOL data, reveals the following bright spots, summarized here in order of relative performance:

  • Largest over-the-year, non-farm employment increases:
    Riverside-San Bernardino, Calif. (+22,000 jobs)
    Las Vegas
    San Diego

    Largest over-the-year percentage employment increases:
    Elkhart-Goshen, Ind. (+4.5%)
    Fayetteville-Springdale-Rogers, Ark.
    McAllen-Edinburg-Mission, Texas
    Santa Fe, N.M.
    Tacoma, Wash.
    Atlantic City-Cape May, N.J.
    Laredo, Texas
    Madison, Wis.
    Wausau, Wis.
    Savannah, Ga.
    Asheville, N.C.

  • Lowest unemployment rates for large metropolitan areas: 
    Greater Washington, D.C. (3.1%)
    Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minn.
  • Largest over-the-year unemployment declines in large metropolitan areas: 
    Las Vegas (1.9%)
    Orlando, Fla.

And these are the metropolitan areas less likely to support IT jobs, according to the December labor statistics:

  • Highest unemployment rates in large metropolitan areas: 
    San Jose, Calif. (7.5%)
    New York
    Portland, Ore.-Vancouver, British Columbia
  • Largest over-the-year, non-farm employment declines: 
    Chicago (-57,400 jobs)
    New York
    San Jose, Calif.
    San Francisco
  • The largest over-the-year percentage employment declines:
    Flint, Mich. (4.3%)
    Decatur, Ill.
    Bridgeport, Conn.
    Boulder-Longmont, Colo.
    Albany, Ga.
    Witchita, Kan.
    Elmira-Binghamton, N.Y.

Looking beyond 2003, several emerging job markets will produce more IT jobs. The Albany, N.Y., area and surrounding region are receiving substantial investments from the state government and private investors that are intended to attract technology businesses. Sematech -- an Austin, Texas-based consortium of 12 semiconductor companies from seven countries -- will soon be opening its newest program in Albany.

Business is surging for defense contractors and the biomedical firms in Washington, D.C., and northern Virginia, where the jobless rate is the nation's lowest. The Northern Virginia Technology Council estimates a current demand for some 4,000 to 5,000 IT workers, especially government contractors with security clearances.

In California, an array of medical device and biomedical companies needing IT pros (including Baxter International Inc. and Becton, Dickinson and Company) are also figuring into job growth in the 28,000-square mile, three-county Riverside-San Bernardino area east of Los Angeles. But the primary reason why this area, dubbed the Inland Empire region, created the most jobs in the country last year: it's become a burgeoning center for distribution, requiring specialized skills in logistics and IT.

Las Vegas and Reno, Nev., are enjoying strong job growth tied to the post-September 11 return of gaming and leisure customers. Jobs are returning to Miami and Orlando, Fla., for some of the same reasons.

There's no doubt that industry has a lot to do with where IT employment can be found. Manufacturing continues to be the weakest industry division, according to Department of Labor research, which cites employment growth in the services, government, finance, insurance and real estate industries. My firm's research findings indicate IT job growth in the financial services, defense, insurance, health care, pharmaceutical and biomedical industries, but continued hard times for IT workers in the technology, wholesale/retail, and media/publishing sectors.

Trends to watch closely

Disaffected, stressed-out, private-sector IT workers with worthless stock options are more aggressively seeking jobs in federal and state government. Who could blame them? Why wouldn't they want a more relaxed work environment, shorter hours, generous family-friendly benefits and better job security? Especially those who risk losing their jobs permanently to offshore technicians, contractors and part-time workers who can work more cheaply and provide IT executives with greater flexibility and responsiveness. So-called permanent layoffs are a deadly serious employment trend that have appeared not just in our research but in a report issued in August by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, which confirmed that a structural downsizing began more than a decade ago -- a downsizing that's similar to the workforce reductions in manufacturing and aerospace jobs during the last century.

For a free copy of Foote Partners' just-released "2003 Trends Report on Technical Certifications & Skills Pay" go to this URL and follow the instructions.

About the author:
David Foote is president and chief research officer at Foote Partners LLC, the management consultancy and IT workforce research firm he cofounded in 1997. He was formerly an industry analyst at Gartner Inc. and Meta Group, where he founded and directed Meta's CIO/CTO research service and led its IT human capital management and compensation research areas. During the past 20 years -- including a decade in Silicon Valley as a technology executive and industry consultant -- Foote has advised corporations and governments on five continents in information-age management strategies. His editorial columns, articles and contributions appear weekly in a variety of popular business, IT and human resources publications, and are broadcast on the radio and through webcasts. Contact him at


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