Salary gains modest for IT professionals, outlook cloudy

The 2005 Australian Computer Society (ACS) Remuneration Survey remains one of the largest of its kind in Australia and provides a detailed picture of working life for Australia's ICT professionals.

Undertaken for the society by the Association of Professional Engineers, Scientists and Managers, Australia (APESMA), the study analyzed questionnaires submitted by 1380 randomly selected ACS members.

Results showed that the average salary paid to an ICT professional had risen by 3.8 percent over the 12 months to May 2005, with the median base salary of all respondents at $80,000 and the median total package $91,560.

When divided into separate sectors, it seems that those IT professionals working in the private sector are slightly better off than their public sector peers, while lower down the scale are computer professionals in the education sector.

The median base salary for private sector IT professionals was $86,000, with a package of $99,057; for the public sector it was $74,489 with a total package of $84,901; in education it was $69,000 with a total package of $77,942.

As for increases in wages over the last 12 months, it was 4 percent for the private sector and 3.6 percent for the public sector including education. Despite the increases, working hours and overtime continues to be a problem with many computer professionals struggling to maintain a healthy work/life balance.

Typically, for those in the IT industry the regular working week is well above 38 hours.

The average is 43 hours per work, which is similar to past surveys. But more revealing is that more than half of all computer professionals work up to 50 hours a week with 25 percent topping the 50-hour mark.

And it does differ between the public and private sector with those in the public sector more likely to work shorter hours. However, there was a significant amount of overtime reported in the survey across all sectors, but the bulk of this overtime goes unpaid.

Rates charged by independent contractors varied considerably, though generally sat in the range of $50 to $100 an hour, depending on the nature of the work.

Around 13 percent of contractors surveyed reported a decrease in rates compared to rates 12 months earlier.

But worst of all is that, in relative terms, incomes for IT professionals are falling behind those in other occupations.

In the 12 months to February 2005, the Australian Bureau of Statistics reported Australian average weekly earnings increased by 4.8 percent.

This is 50 percent greater than increases reported by many of the ICT professionals who responded to the survey.

A program director for an IT consulting group, who requested anonymity, said he wasn't surprised that wages had increased, if only slightly, over the last year.

"There's a lot more activity in the market now, a lot more demand than there was in the past," the program director said.

"We have been lucky; our wages have stayed consistently high, mostly because I'm an independent consultant and can engage with many clients, who have a significant investment in IT.

"Therefore, they are willing to pay to get the job done successfully."

This attitude, he said, is the reason why there is such a difference in pay between the public, private and education sectors.

"Government tends to significantly under-invest in wages, " he said.

"Often the public sector will pay $90,000 for a job that would pay $180,000 in the private sector.

"They can get someone with a heartbeat at this price, but not someone that is truly going to be able to deliver on the project.

"This is why there are huge blowouts with some government projects."

The IT professionals' working week

A quarter of private sector respondents work 50 hours a week or more.

About 20 percent of public sector respondents averaged 46 hours a week or more.

A quarter of those working in the education sector work 55 hours a week or more.

Very little compensation is paid to those working overtime; this varied depending on sector. For example, 60.8 percent of private sector respondents received no overtime payments; in the public and education sectors, 41.4 percent and 67.7 percent of respondents respectively received no overtime payments.

Offshoring erodes employment gains

Ask Australian Computer Society president Edward Mandla about the survey findings and the outlook is grim.

Despite modest salary increases and some positive signs, Mandla says the future is clouded by a range of factors particularly unemployment, offshoring and an uneven supply of skills.

"As offshoring continues to bite, any gains in employment continue to be eroded," he said.

The ICT industry, he says, is shifting away from programming towards "supporting the competitive drivers of an organization".

"This will continue to be a problem as universities and migration programs are producing programmers in bulk," Mandla said.

"Today employers want graduates ready to go with hard skills such as security, Web services, wide area networking, voice over IP, wireless, customer relationship management, workflow and document management, enterprise application integration and enterprise resource planning.

"There is also a huge move towards soft skills like project management, people management, negotiation and business case development.

"There needs to be far greater focus placed on reskilling ICT workers and the ACS is currently leading a survey to find out the state of training in major companies to identify how much training is needed, what is available and who is expected to pay for training."

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