As eastern Australia suffers through a long, dry summer, the job drought within the ICT (information and communication technology) sector looks set to face a wintery chill in 2002 as the number of 'hot' skills sets reduces to a trickle.
According to preliminary results of a Department of Workplace Relations study into skill shortages within the ICT industry, the ICT Vacancy Index has steadily declined during 2001 and is 78 per cent down on the Index peak recorded in September 2000. The number of specialist areas with severe shortages has also tumbled to 13 in October 2001, from 26 in December 2000-January 2001.
According to the report, skill sets in demand include DB2, Sybase SQL server, C++, Progress, Firewall and Internet security, XML, Java security and electronic commerce, SAP, PeopleSoft, Siebel, Satellite design, e-commerce security (non programming) and CISSP (certified information systems security professional).
The report said these 13 specialisations, in demand across the nation, would be considered for inclusion on the Migration Occupations in Demand List (MODL).
While skill sets out of favour, according to Kev Jones, business manager and industry analyst at TMP Worldwide, include mainframe developers and support, graduates, business analysts and project managers and testers (except Web-based).
The study also revealed that while ICT employment had averaged 192,000 for the year 2000, and the average employment level for the three quarters to August 2001 had increased 15.4 per cent to 221,000, there was "strong evidence" that this rate of increase in employment was unlikely to continue into 2002.
Opinion on this matter is more positive within the recruitment industry. Bob Olivier, director, Olivier e-cruitment Advisors, said the industry should gradually pick up now that the Federal Election and September 11 was behind us.
"I can't see a big bounce back and there is scope for further falls should more global IT businesses enforce staff freezes and cuts in Australia, and should business investment in IT not increase."
Jones believes the industry is "through the worst"; post-Easter the market will start a "sustainable rebound".
"For the remainder of 02 we expect demand to be peaky and uneven, but with an overall strong upward trend."
It will not be until 2003, however, Jones said, that the pendulum will swing back in favour of job seekers. "But not to the extent experienced during the overheated demand of 99 and 2000.
"[For 2002] employers will continue to be in the driver's seat."
Olivier and Jones predict bad news on the salary front this year for contract and permanent ICT employees.
"Contract rates have decreased across most job types. The level depends on the skill set but generally [it has been] 5 to 10 per cent," Jones said.
Olivier believes there is little inflationary or demand-driven pressure for salaries to rise.
"Those employed should not expect any increase other than based on personal performance. People should [also] not expect to necessarily increase their salary should they move roles and should know that if they were to be replaced, their employer may well recruit successfully at a lower base," he said.