Information technology professionals in Canada will experience a slightly more welcoming job market but virtually no increase in base pay next year, according to new research from RHI Consulting.

RHI Thursday released its Salary Guide, which predicts base compensation for IT professionals will increase a scant 0.1 per cent in 2002. Last year at this time, the firm predicted an 8.3 per cent increase.

Though wages will remain stagnant, the good news for IT professionals is that there will be a little more work to go around. RHI’s IT hiring index, released Tuesday, predicts a net 14 per cent increase in IT jobs next year.

Eighteen per cent of the 270 CIOs surveyed by RHI said they plan to add staff next year, while four per cent predicted a drop in their employment rolls. (At this time last year, RHI predicted an 18 per cent net increase). The CIOs surveyed represent companies spread across different sectors of the economy, and all their companies have at least 100 employees.

Stephen Mill, senior regional manager at RHI, acknowledged the growth in part-time and contract employment, suggesting there are currently as many of these workers as full-time staff in many companies. But he said the 14 per cent net increase refers mainly to full-time employment.

“I’m going to suggest that when someone talks about adding to their staff, they’re talking about full-time workers,” he said.

Though RHI did not say just how many net jobs would be added next year, Mill is confident the number of employees added by the 18 per cent planning to increase staff would be significantly higher than those let go by the four per cent that plan to cut staff.

“Our feeling is the largest shedding of employees had taken place in the industries that are affected,” Mill said. “There are companies today that are not feeling the pinch. If you’re in the right industry today, you’re going to be adding to your staff.”

The brightest spot for IT workers in 2002 looks to be professional services, where 26 per cent of CIOs said they expect to add staff and none said they expect to cut workers. RHI also predicts significant net increases in business services (21 per cent) and retail industries (14 per cent).

But specific skills, rather than market sectors, appear to be the drivers of salary increases in 2002. RHI expects e-commerce analysts and help desk specialists to see the largest increases in base salary, at 3.7 per cent. Database developers and systems auditors clock in next, with predicted increases of 3.3 per cent.

Though the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in the United States have slowed the economy, resulting in a drop in the employment rate, security is one sector that is primed for growth, Mill said. RHI predicts a 2.6 per cent increase in base compensation for security professionals, a 2.8 per cent increase for network security administrators and a 2.2 per cent increase for systems security administrators.

Mill noted salary has lost a bit of its lustre as a draw for IT workers, however, and that many who got stung by the slowdown in the technology sector may look towards the security of other sectors , such as financial services.

Employment prospects for IT workers are also dependent in part on geography, mainly because of the fortunes of industries that drive certain regions of the country.

“We have seen very strong growth in Alberta,” Mill said. “Ontario is a bit of a mixed bag. But, depending on how you interpret what is happening, there are a lot of companies in high-tech still hiring. Montreal is a very buoyant market right now. Vancouver (is) a little flatter.”

Though Mill did not have specific salary-growth prediction for different regions, The Toronto Board of Trade last month did offer a relatively positive prediction for IT workers in the greater Toronto area. The BoT predicts a 3.3 per cent rise in base salaries next year for IT managers and 3.2 per cent for non-managerial employees in the GTA.

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