The good news, if there is any in this lousy job market, is that the unemployment rate in IT is only about half that of the overall market, which the U.S. Labor Department on Friday put at 9.8 percent.
It remains an employer's market, with an abundance of candidates for every position, but candidates with in-demand skills continue to fare quite well.
In the economic downturn many companies delayed projects, according to Dave Willmer, executive director of Robert Half Technology. He said his company is seeing some activity as companies again take on those projects.
Said Tom Silver, Dice.com senior vice president for North America:
Employers are feeling better and overall sentiment is improving, but it takes a while for that to translate into real hiring trends. Employers are cautious and they want to make sure things are going to get better for their businesses.
Yet in a September survey across industries by Robert Half International (the tech company's parent) and CareerBuilder of more than 500 hiring managers, technology was the most-cited department where hiring is expected to take place once the economy improves. (Click here for a free copy of the 2009 Employment Dynamics and Growth Expectations (EDGE) report.)
He said there is a continuing demand for software developers and even during the hiring slump, companies were still hiring for top positions-the senior developer, the team lead -- that had to be filled. He said he's now seeing more general openings as well.
The top keywords in JobThread listings, he said, are "engineer," "developer," "senior," "architect" and "manager."
Willmer said hiring already is increasing in areas including New York, Washington, D.C., Chicago, Los Angeles, Dallas and Houston.
While the job count on Dice.com is down 40 percent from a year ago, and has been relatively flat for several months, it's down only 15 percent for the Baltimore/ Washington, D.C. area-obviously tied to the federal government, Silver said. And the number of jobs in the New York area has recovered from its January slump.
Wies said New York City has been representing about 25 percent of its total listings, while large population centers in California, Florida, Illinois and New Jersey lead the rest.
Hiring in high tech and manufacturing is picking up, according to Willmer.
"Manufacturing has lately come on the scene and that's a good sign. that means they're looking to restock their inventories," he said " I don't want to make it sound like it's in droves, but it's activity nonetheless. You hope that activity in manufacturing leads to something else related to improvement."
Wies said many of his clients are small startups and he's seen an increase in project-based postings rather than full-time work. But most of them are listed as contract-to-hire, so they could turn into full-time jobs once the economy picks up.
Willmer said health care is creating the most IT jobs from the federal stimulus package. But the move to electronic medical records was creating work there before the downturn. Robert Half recently reported that health care organizations plan to increase IT hiring by 5 percent in the fourth quarter, while overall IT hiring is expected to remain flat.
Some work from the stimulus package also is being created in state and local governments, especially in infrastructure and road projects, Willmer said.
And Silver listed network security, especially when securing government data, as one of the hottest skills going. David Foote of CEO of Foote Partners agrees in this interview on govinfosecurity.com.
Willmer said IT pros can find work.
"It's mostly on the desktop side, desktop support analysts, PC techs, but we're also seeing a continuing blend with program analysts as well as Web development," he said. And he expects people with Windows 7 skills to be in demand as companies migrate to Microsoft's new operating system.
He said companies have been putting off projects requiring higher-paying skills. But those skills remain in demand: .Net, ERP development, SharePoint development.
Silver also put virtualization among the hottest skills.
You'd think with so much talent in the market, it would be easier for companies to hire. But hiring hasn't gotten faster as companies work to make sure candidates fit exactly the needed skills, Willmer said.
According to the EDGE report, which isn't specific to IT, companies said it takes 14.4 weeks to hire a senior executive, 8.7 weeks to hire a supervisor, and 7.4 weeks to hire a staff member. And hiring managers complained that 44 percent of job candidates were unqualified.
Just as there have been delayed projects, there also seems to be some pent-up dissatisfaction among IT workers about their jobs, according to Silver. He surmises that from a recent survey on Dice.com in which 74 percent of respondents said they either "definitely" or "maybe" plan to change jobs. Some unemployed IT pros might have taken lesser jobs just to survive the downturn while others might be overwhelmed with work as companies cut staff.
Dice's annual salary report will come out in the next month. It found in 2008 a 4.6 percent increase to an average $78,035 over 2007. While many salaries have been frozen or cut by struggling companies, Silver said the economy has affected IT salaries, but not dramatically. Companies are trying to bring new hires in at slightly lower rates, he said, but those with in-demand skills can still command premium pay.
For the unemployed, Willmer advises actively networking, both at in-person events and online. Flexibility ranked No. 2 on his list. Consider contract or project work. Be flexible on the location where you work. And possibly be flexible on your rate if it's project work and helps you get your foot in the door.
Silver pointed to his company's new site, DiceLearning.com, as a way to upgrade skills-something all tech pros need to be doing constantly as technology changes. If you're still employed and you sense organizational change is coming to your company, broaden the scope of your work, he advised.
"It's great if you can write the code; it's great if you can be a true tech specialist. But those guys who figure out how to integrate the technology into the company's overall strategy, those are the guys who can separate themselves even more," he said.