IT pay takes a hit

Pay for noncertified IT skills, which has been consistently on the rise since mid-2004, began to decline in the last quarter of 2008, research shows.

IT salaries won't be spared from the economic malaise plaguing North America, according to recent research that confirms pay for noncertified and certified IT skills declined in late 2008 and is expected to fall further in 2009.

While IT pay for noncertified skills has consistently been on the rise since mid-2004, the current economic climate has taken its toll, according to Foote Partners' IT Skills and Certifications Pay Index, which tracks pay for 354 skills and certifications earned by 22,550 IT professionals in the United States and Canada. The average market value for 179 noncertified IT skills dropped 0.5% in the last three months of 2008 for the first time in several quarters. Pay for the 175 IT certifications Foote Partners follows dropped 1% in the last quarter and 5% for the entire year. (Use our 2009 salary calculator to get a personal estimate of how much you should be earning.)  

"It was inevitable for skills pay to start reflecting the hard times we're in. This is not the first time in 10 years tracking skills and certifications pay and demand that we've seen corrections brought on by economic conditions," said David Foote, co-founder, CEO and chief research officer at the firm, in a statement. (Read how IT executives are budgeting for the downturn.)  

Among the noncertified skills that saw a decline in the last quarter of 2008 are applications development tools and language skills, with the average median down nearly 2%. Others include SAP and enterprise application skills that experienced a 1.7% decrease in pay, and pay for operating systems skills fell about 1.6% on average. Web/e-commerce skills pay dropped about 1.5%, and average compensation for systems and networking skills decreased by 0.8% during the quarter.

Certified skills, which have been seeing drops in pay since 2006, saw more significant decreases in the last quarter, according to Foote Partners' research. For instance, pay for Web development skills fell 16.3% and those with application development and programming language skills experienced average decreases of 5.3%. Other certification areas that dipped into the loss area include certified systems administration and engineering/network operating systems skills, which dropped 2.2% during the last quarter of 2008 and 9.7% for the full year.

Yet the news isn't all bad. Foote Partners' research revealed key skill areas in which pay increased in late 2008 and could continue to grow in the coming months.

"Clearly, an urgent demand for talent in several areas is eclipsing broad, knee-jerk reactions to reduce budgets and cut people, projects and purchases without thinking carefully about the consequences," Foote said. "It's about how smart they're spending what they have."

For instance, noncertified skills in management, methodology and process earned 5.6% more in pay, while pay for database skills increased by 2.9% and messaging and communications skills pay saw a similar increase of 2.8%.

As for certified skills, project management and architecture skills pay experienced a 3.1% increase in the last quarter (10% for the year) and IT security pay ticked upward by 0.8%. Pay for IT certifications for networking/internetworking skills grew 1.1% in the last part of 2008.

"The fact is that employers made mistakes in past downturns, huge miscalculations in the heat of cost-cutting that hurt them later on," Foote said. "Employers are obviously now aware that continuing to invest strategically in IT skills and labor is the smartest thing they can possibly do to make it to the other side of this recession as stronger, undiminished enterprises."

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