IT hiring remains strong despite economic fears

IT professionals looking for new jobs need not fear that the recent spate of bad economic news will hamper their job searches

IT professionals looking for new jobs need not fear that the recent spate of bad economic news will hamper their job searches. IT staffing industry executives agree that IT hiring in the U.S. will remain robust through the end of the year, bucking renewed fears of a double dip recession recently brought on by stock market corrections, the ongoing debt crisis in Europe and the U.S., and Standard &Poor's downgrade of America's credit rating.

"Despite the economic woes we've been hearing about, I haven't on the ground seen any change in demand [for IT workers]," says Shane Bernstein, managing director of IT staffing firm Q. "In fact, demand keeps increasing. Every week I hear [from our clients], 'We have a lot more positions coming down the pipeline that we need to fill.'"

Q works with small, midsize and large companies in technology and other industries. "No one has put budgets on hold. No one has put hiring freezes on," adds Bernstein. "The economy hasn't affected us yet. This is not to say that it won't, but I haven't seen it."

Andrew Speer, senior vice president of technology services for IT staffing firm Technisource, and Jeff Freeland, CEO of Santa Clara, Calif.-based Astreya, are also bullish about the IT job market through the end of the year. Speer says requests for temporary workers, temp-to-perm hires and permanent placements are all on the rise at Technisource. Consequently, he adds, IT workers are in a "wonderful" position to land new jobs.

Astreya's staffing business, which specializes in placing IT infrastructure workers (systems administrators, network engineers and system and network architects), is also growing--by 27 percent over the last year, says Freeland.

Speer admits that he was nervous about Technisource's services business 10 days ago, when the stock market bottomed out and S&P announced its downgrade. He thought those events might cause Technisource's customers to begin putting some IT projects on the backburner, but like Q's Bernstein, he has not observed or heard of any customers delaying any projects.

Astreya's staffing business hasn't been affected by this most recent round of bad economic news either. "Across the board, we haven't heard one client say, 'Because of this downgrade or because of the economy in the U.S. or Europe, we're going to slow things down,'" says Freeland. "We've been reassured by our clients that things are going to continue. They're still hiring and hiring faster across the board in different skillsets. That's as good a guarantee as we're going to get."

Even many IT professionals are optimistic about the job market. Forty-four percent of those polled by staffing firm Technisource during the second quarter reported feeling confident they could find a new job. Nearly three-quarters (71 percent) of IT professionals aren't worried about getting laid off. In fact, IT professionals' confidence in their employers' futures climbed to its highest level--70 percentage points--since the fourth quarter of 2007.

CIOs are slightly more cautious about their hiring plans than the staffing executives. According to a survey of 1,054 IT decision-makers conducted between May 26 and June 3, 2011 on behalf of technology solutions provider CDW, only 19 percent of IT departments plan to hire in the next six months. The better news? Only seven percent anticipate staff cuts.

CIOs Can't Afford Not to Hire

Staffing industry executives are bullish about IT hiring despite economic concerns because IT departments cut so deeply and delayed so many projects during the recession of 2008 and 2009. They can't afford to put any more projects on hold, they say.

"The project delays that occurred over the last three years have really impacted companies' ability to be nimble and efficient," says Speer. "So many companies kicked off projects toward the end of last year, and they are working really, really hard to get those across the [finish] line."

Speer says Technisource's clients in the financial services industry started a lot of projects at the end of 2010. They're getting close to finishing them up and plan to start new ones, he says. Technisource's retail clients are also in the middle of a slew of IT projects.

Freeland also believes IT hiring will remain strong through the remainder of the year simply because "businesses across the board are so dependent on IT infrastructure and technology, that slowing down or stopping is impossible," he says.

Tom Richards, COO of CDW, expects that businesses will continue to invest in IT through the end of the year as a way to cut costs or improve productivity, as they've done in previous downturns. The IT hiring and budget survey CDW conducted in early June shows that 90 percent of IT decision makers at large companies and 89 percent of IT decision makers at midsize companies plan to purchase new hardware over the next six months. Approximately 40 percent of IT leaders plan to install new software over the next six months. Virtualization, cloud computing, mobility and security are also high spending priorities for CIOs over the next six months, according to the CDW survey.

Speer says are also spurring companies to hire contract and permanent IT staff. They need IT workers to plan and carry out these implementations, to integrate other enterprise applications with it, and in many cases to upgrade the hardware that the software will run on, he adds.

The Jobs That Will Remain in Greatest Demand

The four IT jobs that are currently in highest demand at Technisource are project managers, business analysts, application developers and IT security professionals, says Speer. He expects these positions to remain in demand through the rest of 2011, even if the economy continues its southbound trajectory.

Q's clients are seeking all manner of software developers: Java, .NET, open source, PHP, Ruby on Rails and Python, says Bernstein. Systems administrators are also in demand, along with product managers and project managers.

"Folks that have experience and can wear multiple hats are faring the best," says Speer. "If you have project management experience plus coding experience, you're a hot commodity."

Even if the economy forces CIOs to make cuts, Speer expects them to cut areas such as the help desk before they put projects on hold and cut project managers and developers. For example, a CIO whose help desk currently answers every call after one ring and resolves most trouble tickets after the first call might scale back staff and service so that calls are answered after the fifth ring and trouble tickets take three calls before they're resolved.

"IT has a number of levers it can pull, not just from a cost-savings perspective but as it relates to protective decisions, and the service desk is one such lever," says Speer.

Meridith Levinson covers Careers, Project Management and Outsourcing for CIO.com. Follow Meridith on Twitter @meridith. Follow everything from CIO.com on Twitter @CIOonline and on Facebook. Email Meridith at mlevinson@cio.com.

Tags business issuescareersIT management

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