Next year will mark the first time IT starting salaries have decreased, an industry survey shows, but there is still plenty of cash to be made if you know where to look.

The annual Robert Half Technology Inc. Salary Guide is a forecast of

salary trends based on the information the recruitment company compiles using its international experience placing IT professionals. The Canadian forecast for IT starting salaries in 2003, according to the guide, is an average drop of 2.3 per cent.

Last year’s survey showed a 0.1 per cent increase, certainly suggesting a downward trend. But taking into account what the industry had been through recently, a slight decrease is not that bad, argues RHI regional manager Stephen Mill.

“”Honest to god, we thought it was going to be worse,”” he says.

Mill points to the vast numbers of companies who have either let workers go or at least put a hiring freeze into place. The market is much richer in candidates than positions, he says, putting the balance of power in the employer’s hands in terms of compensation.

And there is no doubt that the IT job market has become a scary place for people with certain skill sets, says Christina Wyatt, account manager and consultant at Toronto Executive Consultants.

“”The market is flat,”” she says. “”Some of these people, I can’t help them at all.””

The RHI study shows the not-surprising effects of a struggling industry on its workforce, says Mill. But he also says it shows that people going through re-training as well as brand new entrants into the field are not paying attention to what skills are in demand. Some of the biggest salary drops, for example, included Internet and e-commerce related specialties, with declines of up to seven and a half percent, Mill said. Yet both Internet and e-commerce have been the most popular areas of training and re-training.

Paying better attention to the market can mean big payoffs, Mill points out. The RHI survey shows that for the third year in a row security-related positions will see salary increases higher than the rest of the industry. Base compensation is expected to rise 4.7 per cent, the Salary Guide states, with some specialties seeing even bigger increases. Data security analysts should see a rise of 6.9 per cent.

The Salary Guide also forecasts continuing gains in government services. It’s certainly the case in provinces undergoing utility deregulation like Ontario, Alberta and British Columbia, Mill says. Alberta’s natural resources industries are also a strong market.

Mill adds that the federal government’s efforts to move online and efforts to increase the IT presence in health care mean more application development opportunities for IT professionals.

“”Those are areas where without question there will be continued spending and continued employment,”” he says.

The IT salary picture also doesn’t look too gloomy when compared with the rest of the struggling Canadian economy. Wyatt says that highly skilled workers in other industries are seeing their salary options decrease, sometimes quite drastically.

“”For engineering, we’ve a lot of people who are saying ‘I used to earn close to six figures.’ Now they’re earning closer to eighty (thousand),”” she says.

Mill argues that the survey shows a pretty positive picture of compensation.

“”I think it’s one thing to say, Oh it’s down, but when it’s down in comparison to a market that really has been aversely affected, I don’t think it’s really such a bad news story,”” he says. “”It’s difficult today to be in this industry, but then again it’s difficult to be in a lot of industries.””

The Salary Guide forecast is compiled using data from the job searches, negotiations and placements Robert Half Technology conducts during the course of the year.

Comment: info@itbusiness.ca

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