Aussie IT pros reject claims of jobs growth

Australian IT staff have flatly rejected US research showing big organisations are hiring and the global economy is improving.

Local IT professionals and recruitment specialists claim US reports showing more than one third (34 per cent) of IT organisations have increased their total number of IT staff, is certainly not the reality locally.

According to Meta Group's 2002 IT Staffing and Compensation Guide, respondents from more than 600 medium-sized to large American companies reported that despite the downturn, IT organisations have increased their total number of IT staff.

However, Harlequin Enterprises IT manager Paul Singh said many of his friends and colleagues in Australia are out looking for jobs, the market is slow and there is no planned growth for the remainder of the year.

"It is in an organisation's interest to keep its skilled workforce rather than let them go. Remember, any new staff add cost to the company in terms of training and lost productivity as others have to wait until this new [appointee] is up to speed," Singh said.

Bob Olivier, director, Olivier e-Recruitment Advisors disagrees with the findings saying there is still insufficient confidence in Australia to increase headcount.

Ross Greenwood, managing director of Woodbine Associates supports the US findings claiming the market has picked up since March but IT managers out in the field disagree.

Greenwood said he has not noticed a shift, saying IT shops are under pressure to perform, are under-resourced and struggling to maintain service levels with depleted teams (compared with 12 months ago).

"The optimisation of human assets is talked about at best. Most companies, especially the publicly listed ones subject to quarterly financial scrutiny, in the short term are in tactical mode," he said.

"Anything that can't be measured exactly in dollar terms takes second priority. Most personnel related expenditure, by its nature, is long."

The survey found skills most difficult to retain are e-commerce and Internet skills and application development.

Findings at a glance

* Key concerns: Retaining critical skills and key performers is a top IT priority, second only to maintaining profitability and competitiveness. Managing IT compensation rates while still offering attractive incentives for high-performing staff was rated third.

* Voluntary departure rate still high: rates of voluntary departure continue to be high in 2002, with the average turnover rate at 10 per cent, down only by a single percentage point since 2001. Although this average is quite high, there are far fewer companies reporting excessively high (over 20 per cent) turnover rates, though about one-quarter of this year's respondents still report turnover in the 11 to 20 per cent range. Conversely, the high involuntary departure rates were on a par with the rest of the country; 45 per cent of survey respondents indicate they have fewer IT staff than last year.

* IT organisations are hiring: surprisingly, despite the downturn, more than 34 per cent of IT organisations have increased their total number of IT staff.

* Boomers retiring: employers are preparing for the legions of "baby boomers" expected to retire soon, leaving many legacy skills positions empty. The US federal workforce will be especially hard hit, with more than 50 per cent of its workforce expected to retire during the next five to seven years.

* IT employee compensation levels remain high: IT compensation levels are still higher than for non-IT employees.

* Number of retention bonuses increased 32 per cent: Signing bonuses continue to be used at roughly the same rate as last year (22 per cent in 2002 vs 20 per cent in 2001). Retention bonuses were much more frequent in 2002, with 44 per cent of respondents reporting they issued a retention bonus (vs 12 per cent in 2001).

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