Are you underpaid, underappreciated and overworked in your IT department? Cheer up, because 2012 looks like an opportune time for IT professionals to look for new, higher-paying jobs.
The IT job market did a 180-degree turnaround in 2011, and it is poised for continued growth in 2012, experts say.
The number of available IT jobs in the United States rose significantly -- up 12% year-over-year in November on the website Dice.com -- and several major metropolitan areas including Silicon Valley, New York City and Washington, D.C., are experiencing shortages of skilled IT workers.
Indeed, the IT market is so strong that the unemployment rate for the U.S. tech industry was at 2.7% in November.
"Anybody who is good and wants a job, has one," says Matt McGee, vice president of technical staffing services at Cincinnati-based Pomeroy. "You don't find a lot of qualified, unemployed IT people right now."
This dynamic is expected to continue in 2012. In a December survey of 1,200 IT hiring managers, Dice.com found that 65% will add IT professionals in the first half of 2012 and a significant number -- 27% -- plan to expand their IT workforce by more than 20%. Most employers are looking for IT workers with six to 10 years of experience, followed by workers with two to five years of experience.
For CIOs, the trend means that they could lose their best technical talent unless they are proactive with compensation, flexible work arrangements and exposure to emerging technologies.
"If your salaries are more than 10% lower than market rates, and you are not doing something very interesting technically or very personally rewarding, then your employees are at risk," says McGee, who anticipates a lot of poaching of tech talent in 2012. "For IT people who are way underpaid and unhappy, it's the best time I've seen in years for people with IT skill sets to go find their dream jobs."
The IT skills that are in biggest demand include Java, .Net and mobile application development as well as virtualization and cloud computing. Companies also are looking for experienced project managers and people who know how to use business analytics tools.
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Meanwhile, more IT workers say they are planning to switch jobs in 2012.
In an October 2011 survey of 300 IT professionals, Randstad Technologies found that more than half -- 54% -- want to explore other job options when the job market picks up and 41% feel that they've been left behind in their careers because of the poor economy. Indeed, IT workers are already more likely than 2,900 professionals surveyed in other departments to be networking online and in person in preparation for switching jobs.
It appears that job applicants with in-demand skills will have the advantage when negotiating with hiring managers in 2012.
"It's definitely a candidate's market right now," says Elizabeth Sias, recruiting manager for Randstad Technologies, a Boston-based IT staffing firm. "There are so many opportunities out there. If their company isn't willing to give them the increase they are looking for, they know they can move to another company and get ... another $10,000 a year.''
One indicator that tech wages are going up is the Yoh Index of Technology Wages, which measures wage rate fluctuations of highly skilled temporary workers in technology and engineering. Yoh said September 2011 wages were 6.85% greater than the previous year, which was the biggest jump in three years.
"Skilled temporary professionals are finally beginning to gain much-needed leverage in the marketplace, and are using that leverage to seek higher wages," Yoh's third-quarter report said, adding that temporary employment is a leading indicator of future economic activity.
After several years of flat salaries and reduced benefits, skilled IT professionals may be surprised to find out how much they are worth on the open market.
"When was the last time you checked if your salary was competitive? It's changing quarter over quarter," McGee says. "Most of the smart people who have been hiring in the last year will tell you there has been a dynamic change from Q1 to Q3. It's becoming very painful to find the right person that's someone you want to hire."
Some IT professionals will stay in lower-paying positions with other advantages, such as flexibility, corporate stability or exposure to the latest tools. Employees also want to feel connected to their organization and that their work makes a difference to the bottom line.
"People want the hottest technologies on their resumes," Sias says. "If there's a position where the money might be great but the employee feels stuck in terms of moving to the newest version of software, I do find candidates that are willing to take a pay cut in order to get that great project. Job changes are usually about money, location or the newest technology."
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The IT staff turnover rate -- which rose from 3% to 5% in 2011, according to Gartner -- is expected to keep rising next year. Pomeroy predicts it could hit the high single digits by the end of 2012.
That trend will likely lead to unsolicited recruiting calls for top tech talent. So whether you're disgruntled or not, you should have your resume ready, experts say.
"I haven't seen tons of [poaching] in 2011, but I'm expecting it in 2012," McGee says. "IT budgets are going to be flush at the beginning of next year and companies will need to fill their positions. Smart recruiters are going to call the organizations where they know the people aren't happy."