Senior software and hardware engineers have seen their salaries grow in leaps and bounds, far outpacing the rest of Canada’s workforce, according to recent research.

A report from Toronto-based Mercer Human Resource Consulting indicates senior-level high-tech workers have enjoyed raises of more

than 25 per cent over the last four years. The national average for wage increases is in the order of three to four per cent.

There is pressure to retain the top workers with the most sought-after skills and cash is one way to do it, said Danielle Bushen, principal at Mercer.

“”There is still a human resources war going on for the best talent,”” said Barry Gander, vice-president at the Canadian Advanced Technology Alliance. “”The war . . . for any talent — anybody who was living and breathing and could do coding — is over. But the fact is that the best people are still in great demand.””

Plagued by layoffs

The rounds of layoffs that plagued the high-tech industry in recent years has resulted in a sort of super breed of employee, said Paul Swinwood, president of the Software Human Resource Council. Companies keep the people they need the most.

Those people are “”the core strategic group that will be responsible for the next generation of technologies. While a company may have downsized from 100 to 15, keeping those 15 is now a major focus.

“”They’re the techies who can communicate, they’re the techies who have presentation skills, they’re the techies who have a vision of where they’re going,”” he said, adding that some of the salary bumps are due to a shift towards pure cash and away from incentives like stock options.

“”There’s increasingly a cadre of employees that are highly specialized — they might get called experts or even gurus — who don’t take on management responsibilities, but may in fact may be making more than the managers they report to,”” said Bushen.

The Mercer report defines a senior software engineer as someone who “”analyzes functional business applications and design specifications for functional activities . . . translates detailed design into computer software.””

A senior hardware engineer is “”responsible for the overall design and development of nominated products including the establishment of product specifications, selection of materials, the technical architecture as well as the production and performance of the finished product.””

According to the report, software engineers are earning an average of $101,000 per year up from $80,000 in 2001. Hardware engineers, meanwhile, earn an average of $97,000 compared to $81,000 in 2001.

The slight discrepancy in salaries could be due to the commoditization of hardware in recent years, Bushen said. It’s also because more hardware-related development is being moved offshore than software development.

Software skills are in the highest demand, she added, resulting in a higher pay ceiling for those that possess those skills.

“”What people are looking for varies widely: In one firm, it may be that Java’s the key thing, for somebody else it might be WebSphere. . . . For a while we heard a lot about Oracle. It’s constantly changing,”” she said. Most employers, however, are looking for software professionals who can place their skills within a business context, she added.

The problem with retaining a rarified group of professionals and outsourcing lower-level functions is that you’re not developing a talent pool for the future, Swinwood said.

The number of jobs leaving Canada due to offshoring is being offset by the number of jobs moving north due to nearshoring opportunities from the U.S., he said. However, he added, entry-level technology jobs still aren’t easy to come by.

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