Happy SysAdmin Day (despite the pay)

Wages, job prospects down for techies who keep servers, networks running

Today is System Administrator Appreciation Day, but the IT workers who keep corporate desktops, servers and networks running don't have much to celebrate.

In the past year, their pay has dropped, and more of their positions are being farmed out to temporary workers.

Have you hugged your SysAdmin today?

Indeed, experts say that wage prospects for entry- and mid-level technical workers are the weakest they have seen in nearly a decade.

"The biggest surprise that we've seen is that demand is rising for technical workers, including systems administrators, developers and systems engineers, but that wages have flattened out," says Joel Capperella, senior vice president for client solutions at Yoh Services.

Tech workers are trapped in what's called "an inverted wage curve,'' according to a report released this week by Yoh Services.

This rare trend occurs when demand for skilled workers is increasing, while wages are decreasing. Usually -- according to the economic law of supply and demand -- increased demand for a particular set of skilled workers results in rising wages.

Yoh reported that wages for technical workers were down 3% in June 2010 when compared to June 2009. Meanwhile, overall demand for skilled technical workers has increased across the industry segments that Yoh tracks, including IT, life sciences, engineering, health care, aerospace and defense.

"Tech workers are weary about their employment options and seem to be capitulating on salary," Capperella says. "That's what's driving the stall in wages. Unemployed workers are giving up on meeting their salary demands…People are considering entry-level jobs who normally wouldn't take them. For 18 months, they've been holding off. But, with a recovery still on the horizon, they're looking to take cover with a lesser job."

Yoh reports that U.S. corporations have increased their use of highly skilled temporary employees, but the rate they are willing to pay this workforce has fallen.

"We see an increase in temporaries because companies want flexibility," Capperella says. "The turnover of temporary-to-permanent jobs happens less often than before the recession, but it is better than it was a year ago. My advice to systems administrators who are eager to change jobs or eager to get back into the workforce is to take a job even at lower pay. Losing 3% of your wages isn't that big of a deal."

These trends are good for the CIO, if not so good for the IT staff.

"With skilled employees willing to work for less, employers have the opportunity to lock in labor — even if it is on a temporary basis — at opportunistic wages and rates," Yoh Services says.

Taking this trend one step further, Yoh argues that being able to pay low wages will help U.S. corporations drive up their quarterly earnings.

"To realize such earnings potential, companies must take advantage of this suppressed wage environment while it lasts by accelerating projects once moth-balled due to a deep worldwide recession," Yoh advises. "The deployment of temporary, highly skilled teams of professionals is one way to accomplish this goal while side-stepping the risks of long-term commitments in a still unstable economy."

July 30 is the 11th Annual Systems Administrator Appreciation Day, which occurs on the last Friday of July. Ted Kekatos, an IT manager with a small start-up, created this holiday in 2000 as way of getting recognition for his team's work.

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