Hiring forecast shows slowdown in third quarter staffing

In Hawaii, there’s a joke about how the world’s easiest job is weather forecaster because every day is sunny and beautiful. In IT terms, the parallel might be the economic forecaster because every quarter it seems there are reports of impending doom and gloom.

A recent study released by Robert Half Technology confirms grey skies for a little bit longer, with only 13 per cent of CIOs expecting to hire within the next quarter and nine per cent of them anticipating staff reductions.

Kraig Docherty, the Vancouver-based division director for Robert Half Technology, said this is a confirmation that companies are continuing to use a careful approach to staffing. In this tough economic climate, he said, decision times for hiring are increasing, but most CIOs are remaining cautiously optimistic and are being forced to find better and more efficient ways to conduct business.

“”Unemployment levels are rising and with a larger number of people available to work, it has become competitive for those out there looking. On a positive note, companies are increasing their overall productivity and streamlining internal processes to gain a competitive advantage,”” he said. “”It’s a double-edged sword.””

While the job postings might be fewer and farther between than they were a few years back, Docherty said that companies are continuing to keep eyes and ears open for qualified and experienced IT professionals.

Of the 270 Canadian CIOs participating in the poll, 78 per cent expect no change in hiring activity, but of the 13 per cent that will consider hiring, over half will look for mid-level managers. However, when asked which specific positions will be in most demand, the CIOs listed help desk specialist, programmer/analyst and network administrator as their top choices.

The inclusion of help desk specialist did not come as a surprise to Alon Ciss, manager of client services at W5 Resources Inc. in Markham, Ont.

“”Help desk has the highest turnover you’re going to find in IT,”” Ciss said. “”Typically, they’re the most underpaid, overworked and underappreciated IT workers. When people get into help desk positions it’s at an entry level — the hours can be crazy, but it’s a natural place to start.””

Hot skills, according to the report, include Microsoft Windows administration for NT, 2000 and XP, Visual Basic development and Cisco network administration.

This came as good news to Rob Windsor, vice-president of the Toronto Visual Basic User Group.

“”It’s a positive sign,”” Windsor said. “”Companies have been putting hiring freezes on, but at some point they have to move forward and do development.””

Both Windsor and Ciss were puzzled at the demand for Windows administrators, but attributed it to Microsoft’s discontinuation of support for some older platforms.

“”If companies feel they can’t run something not supported by Microsoft and feel forced to go ahead and migrate to the next version, I guess I can see the need for administration people, but the phone’s not ringing off the hook for them here,”” Ciss said.

Windsor agreed that the upgrade path would account for the inclusion of Windows administrators on the hot list, but was puzzled as to why it would require additional staffing.

“”Anybody who is already a Windows administrator would be able transition over to a new server. I don’t know why you’d need to add more people,”” he said.

In terms of verticals, the financial industry, the insurance sector and real estate were most positive about IT hiring, with 37 per cent of CIOs expecting to add staff. Docherty attributed this to the increase in volume in home building and sales, mortgage refinancing and property management.

“”A lot of these companies are looking for more efficient ways of managing data, and are looking to technology to do it,”” he said.

While the forecast may be cloudy for next quarter, the promise of sunshine persists.

“”Every indication I have is that the IT market is starting to open up, not slow down. From where we were five or six months ago, if it had slowed down any more there would be no IT work at all, but positions are slowly opening up,”” Windsor said.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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