Network jobs are hot; salaries expected to rise in 2016

Wireless network engineers, network admins, and network security pros can expect above-average pay gains.

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Network professionals continue to be among the toughest IT talent to find and hire – a situation that will drive up salaries in the coming year.

Sometimes networking doesn't get the publicity of "in vogue" tech topics such as mobility, cloud computing or big data, "but we continue to see that it's critical for organizations, and finding highly skilled people to fill those roles is a struggle,” says John Reed, senior executive director of Robert Half Technology.

Every quarter, Robert Half Technology surveys CIOs on the state of hiring, and as part of its survey, CIOs are asked which IT positions are the hardest to fill. “For about 20 straight quarters – I think it's pretty close to that -- the No. 1 role has been network administrator,” Reed says.

“If you're in networking, that continues to bode very well for you.”

Compensation increases attest to the value of skilled networking pros. “We are seeing continued growth in salaries in networking overall, which maintains a pretty solid pattern we've seen over last few years,” Reed says.

Robert Half Technology (RHT) recently released its annual guide to U.S. tech salaries, which finds IT workers can expect bigger pay bumps than many other professionals are getting. Across all fields – including areas such as legal, accounting and finance -- U.S. starting salaries for professional occupations are projected to increase 4.1% in 2016. The largest expected gains are in tech, where starting salaries for newly hired IT workers are forecast to climb 5.3%.

While 5.3% is the average, some tech pros can expect even bigger gains. Wireless networking engineers, for example, will see a 9.7% increase in starting pay – the highest projected raise among all the IT positions included in RHT’s annual guide to U.S. tech salaries.

“That’s not far off from doubling the rate of compensation growth compared to IT in general. That continues to be an area that’s really strong,” Reed says of wireless networking engineers.

Among the positions related to networking and telecommunications, RHT finds that network administrators and network security administrators are also in line to receive above-average pay gains. (See chart below. Note: only base salaries are calculated; totals don’t include bonuses, perks or other compensation elements.)

Networking/telecommunications salaries

Job title 2015 salary range 2016 salary range Growth    
Wireless network engineer $99,000 - $137,500 $108,750 - $150,750 9.7%    
Network security engineer $105,000 - $141,500 $110,250 - $152,750 6.7%          
Network administrator $71,250 - $105,750 $76,250 - $112,000 6.4%    
Network engineer $90,750 - $131,250 $96,000 - $138,750 5.7%    
Pre-sales engineer/technical engineer $86,250 - $125,750 $90,750 - $132,750 5.4%    
Network architect $115,000 - $165,250 $120,000 - $175,000 5.3%    
Network security administrator $99,250 - $138,500 $103,250 - $147,000 5.3%    
Network manager $98,000 - $137,250 $100,000 - $146,750 4.9%    
Telecommunications manager $86,000 - $118,500 $88,500 - $125,000 4.4%    
Telecommunications specialist $59,000 - $91,250 $61,000 - $95,500 4.2%
Source: Robert Half Technology 2016 Salary Guide

Certifications can bump salaries even higher, RHT notes. Cisco network administration skills can boost a network pro’s salary by 9%, for example. Linux/Unix administration skills (8%), VoIP administration skills (5%), and Windows 7 skills (5%) also will give salaries a boost, according to RHT.

“Certifications will usually position you to get a little bit more from a compensation perspective,” Reed says. “It not only demonstrates your proficiency and your expertise in that area, but it also sends a message loud and clear that you’re a specialist in this area. It’s your niche, and it’s important to you.”

Asked about the big picture for IT hiring, Reed is optimistic.

“I think all the indicators that we look at, and the feedback that we've received, say that 2016 will really continue the pattern [of] solid, steady job growth opportunities, and solid and steady compensation growth. It’s not explosive right now. But we continue to see new jobs being created, we continue to see compensation moving in a positive way, and that pattern has held up over the last few years.”

Compared to other industries, tech is a bright spot in the overall U.S. employment market, he says. “IT is different. It’s a much better picture than what you see in a lot of other areas.”

On the candidate front, RHT is seeing more IT pros who would consider leaving their current positions. These so-called “passive candidates” aren’t actively looking for new jobs or widely distributing their resumes, but they’re willing to entertain interesting offers. “We see that more frequently,” Reed says.

While that increases the available talent pool, the onus is on companies to make their offers enticing. “Yes, you might have more people who are willing to entertain your offer, but are you prepared to actually put a package together that will lure them away from where they are?” Reed asks.

For the job seekers, compensation is typically the most important factor to consider, “but the margin is shrinking,” Reed says. In terms of importance, other attributes are making gains, including work/life balance, schedule flexibility, and the ability to work virtually, Reed says. “We see more and more people saying that’s really important.”

To that end, switching jobs isn’t for everyone, especially if an IT pro’s current situation is attractive.

“I always tell people: If you have a great job, and you love your job, and you love the people you work with, and your research tells you that you’re being paid what you should be paid – you should be happy with that, because there are a lot of people who aren’t in that situation,” Reed says. “You shouldn’t change jobs just to change jobs.”

Copyright © 2015 IDG Communications, Inc.

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