IT career virgins need a cherry on top

Oversubscribed employers demand overqualified workers

Any Reg readers looking to change their job or simply start work their career will be left confused by the latest batch of news from UK recruitment experts.

For those who still haven’t decided what to do on leaving university, the news from the Association of Graduate Recruiters (AGR) is relatively good. According to its annual survey the job market is holding steady, but unfortunately so are salaries. However, the IT sector appears to be bucking the trend, with a year-on-year fall of 14 per cent in terms of total vacancies – but a 4.2 per cent rise in median salary, to an average starting salary of £25,000.

IT is also the second most over-subscribed profession in the survey, with 59 applications received for every vacancy – which may go some way to explaining why the Higher Education Statistics Agency finds about 10 per cent of Computer Science graduates still unemployed a year after graduating.

Bad news for you if you are already working in IT: According to JobAdsWatch, whose quarterly survey for Salary Services Ltd provides a fully comprehensive breakdown of salaries for 52 job titles by region, industry and software skills, Quarter 2 2008 saw the "single largest quarter on quarter fall seen since the start of the decade". Advertised salaries in the first quarter 2008 are up by 3.2 per cent compared with the average twelve months ago. However, increases are starting to slow down.

They add: "For contractors the outlook is not too good. The number of contracts on offer fell for the second successive quarter. This time by 11.7 per cent compared with the previous quarter".

A similarly depressing finding comes from IT Jobs Watch, which maintains year-on-year comparisons of jobs by key (ad) word. Their surveys break out salary levels according to whether the job is worked as permanent or contract.

The mostly depressing news here is that permanent IT jobs are down across the board, with some of the biggest reductions in salary identified for jobs featuring C+ or Java in the title. Contract jobs appear to be more of a mixed bag, with large falls in remuneration for jobs requiring specific applications skills (C+, .net, HTML, XML, etc.), balanced by increases in jobs that reference a particular sector (e.g., Government, Insurance).

Meanwhile, in its IT and Telecoms Insights 2008 Employment Forecast series of reports, e-skills UK forecast that the IT sector would grow by 2.5 per cent in the next eight years to 2016, compared with growth of 0.5 per cent across all sectors in the UK overall.

Is there a useful lesson to take out from these figures – or is it just another case of being able to prove almost anything with statistics?

IT blogger, Philip Virgo, thinks there is. “For over 20 years”, he writes, “the recruitment market has been dominated by agencies seeking generic (i.e. not application-specific) technical skills to use currently fashionable software products for clients. Their market share is now falling while direct recruitment by employers has held constant and may be rising”.

Large companies are increasingly looking for maths, physics and computer science graduates who can deal with extreme complexity or who can mix business and technical skills to deliver systems that meet user needs.

Back to the AGR survey. Employers “believe the answer to the skills and knowledge shortage is to focus on the development of elites rather than on widening graduate participation”.

In other words, IT skills are still very much in demand – so long as they are in reality "IT-plus". The days of the specialist application developer are not over. But the spotlight has moved on. Employers now want IT generalists: individuals with a good grounding in different aspects of IT – and with the ability to think outside the box as well.

Whether this is quite what the UK educational system is now producing is a question for another day. ®

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