Senior and highly-skilled IT personnel will likely receive significant wage increases next year, but at the expense of junior workers, according to a report this week from Personnel Systems and the Software Human Resource Council.

“I think with all the layoffs everybody assumes that salaries are going to decrease, but that’s not what we’re seeing,” says Janice Schellenberger, a senior partner with human resources firm Personnel Systems based in Ottawa. “For the senior (positions) we still are seeing increases next year.”

Those senior level personnel may not receive the 15-20 per cent raises they’ve seen in past years, but they will at least be in the double digits, says Schellenberger. Due to the economic slump in the technology industry, the skills of senior and experienced professionals have become acutely important to their employers. “Those are the people that not only let you get your current product out the door, but allow you to do the development work so that you’re still in business a year from now,” she says.

The expertise highly-skilled employees can deliver is worth every penny, says John Chettleburgh, chief development officer for training and recruitment firm cncglobal.com “The return that can be generated by hiring such people truly dwarfs the high end of the salary — the $10,000 to $15,000 that they’re offering up each year in retention bonuses and/or salary increases.”

But entry-level IT staff, and people that fill operational jobs like help desk and network administration, will find their salaries increased by single-digit growth — as low as three per cent. There is no shortage of lower-level IT workers in the job market due to significant job cuts in the IT industry, so their worth just isn’t what it was a few years ago, says Schellenberger.

The situation becomes exacerbated for job-seekers who may have the skills through training courses and certification programs but don’t have the work experience to bring to the table at job interviews. The onus is on would-be high-tech professionals to develop other attributes. In order to stand out in a crowd, job seekers should demonstrate some business savvy and have an understanding of where business strategy fits into technical know-how, says Schellenberger.

Those just out of school or a training program can lean on experience they’ve had in co-op program or skills they’ve developed in school project work, says Chettleburgh. “New people streaming into the industry have to sell everything they have, not just technology, but also soft skills and other attributes that they possess.”

Others who have opted for a career in technology may have worked in another industry prior, he added, and every shred of experience should be brought to bare when applying for a job.

Howard Hess, a Toronto-based headhunter, says job-seekers shouldn’t necessarily come to him. Most headhunters just aren’t interested in helping someone with no work experience, he says. The best way to find work is still newspaper classified ads, though he recommends looking at job listings that have been around for months.

“It behooves someone to check the classified ads, and go back a couple of months to check that job is still open. Then they’re not the initial deluge of resumes that that company gets,” he says.

But newspapers may be not be the best method for breaking into the software market, says David Perry, who is a managing partner with technology recruiter Perry-Martel International and serves on the board of directors of the Software Human Resource Council. Software development tends to be more of a hidden market, but conditions now aren’t unlike those when Perry was just entering the field 20 years ago, he says.

“In ’82 there were no jobs. We went out and volunteered . . . to get experience. Whether we were paid for it or not wasn’t relevant. We got experience. Things haven’t changed.”

He isn’t surprised that top level developers are still receiving salary increases while entry-level workers won’t see a huge difference in their pay cheques next year. “The rest of the industry has pay for performance. Why shouldn’t software and IT?”

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