As downturn fades, spending and jobs set for an upturn

While the IT downturn has strangled tech spending over the last few years - forcing most companies to defer spending on big projects - indicators point to an upturn in the next 12 months.

On the salary front, the Australian Institute of Management's National Salary Survey for 2003 showed there has been only modest growth of between 3 and 4 percent in IT remuneration in the last 12 months.

AIM chief executive Graeme Burns said salary movements in IT have been low over the last 12 months compared to the employment market in general.

Across the board, professional workers have seen salary rises of 3.8 percent to 4.5 percent from September 2002 to September 2003, the AIM survey showed.

"It's only as industries start to reinvest in high technology this year that I see demand for IT [people] at more senior levels rising," he said.

"The CIO is in the $120K-plus zone. People at this level aren't [doing badly] with about a 5 percent increase in their remuneration over the last year.

"At the lower end of IT such as IT support and database administrators, our [salary] survey shows people have been getting a 2.5 to 3.4 percent salary increase in the last year."

Burns said he expects salaries to be slightly higher in the 4 to 4.5 percent range over the next 12 months, because of organizations' plans to lift their expenditure on technologies such as business software solutions.

The Australian Information Industry Assocation's 2004 Salary Survey released last week shows pay increases in ICT averaged 4.1 per cent compared to 3.8 per cent in the previous 2003 survey.

While the industry is becoming leaner and meaner, AIIA CEO Rob Durie said top performers were still being rewarded.

"The Australian ICT industry has told us that pay increases over the next 12 months would be determined on performance," he said.

The AIIA's 33rd survey of Australia's top ICT companies covered more than 26,000 employees.

Queensland University of Technology's (QUT) dean of IT, professor John Gough, said there is clear corporate demand for IT professionals to deploy new business systems and manage desktop upgrades, typically Windows and Office XP to Windows 2000 or Microsoft's .Net platform.

A healthy chunk of the IT demand this year will be for entry-level workers to fill helpdesk and IT support roles.

On the salary front, he believes IT remuneration comes down to classic economics.

"Salary increases are at the mercy of supply and demand. Over the last few years anecdotal evidence from industry partners tells us there's been a relative shortage of IT positions [available]. And if there are fewer jobs, there's less money on offer," he said.

QUT's numbers for IT as a first-preference course have dropped by 20 percent over the last three years, a decline Gough regards as significant.

With interest in IT as a first-preference university course waning resulting in fewer skilled prospects for employers to choose from, Gough believes it could result in a 30 percent shortage in qualified IT professionals by 2005.

For senior IT managers to attract more competitive packages over the next few years, Gough said they will need to know how to manage key business issues in areas such as governance and cost containment.

- with Sandra Rossi

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