Sectors in Which IT Salaries Are Holding Steady

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Some industries are more recession-proof than others. In the current downturn, health care and government employment seem to be faring well when compared with other sectors. Back in March when I interviewed folks from online job boards Dice.com, CareerBuilder.com and staffing specialist Robert Half Technology about the IT jobs outlook, they mentioned those fields as showing relative strength. IT Business Edge's Susan Hall got a similar employment story last month when she spoke with some of the same sources, as well as JobThread, which runs our site's job board.


Dave Willmer, executive director of Robert Half Technology, told Susan that health care is generating the most IT jobs from the federal stimulus package. And even before the downturn, the move to electronic medical records was creating work there. Robert Half recently reported that health care organizations plan to increase IT hiring by 5 percent this quarter, while overall IT hiring will remain flat. He also told her some work from the stimulus package is being created in state and local governments, especially in infrastructure and road projects.


Government is one of the areas in which "IT compensation is on the upswing," according to a CIO.com story, which cites job security, decent pension plans and attractive benefits as reasons to like working in government IT. A drawback: limited opportunities for advancement, as government IT pros tend to remain in the same roles for long periods. Other areas showing compensation growth (albeit not big increases) are:


  • Health care: This sector tends to remain relatively unaffected by the broader economy and will see $1.2 billion in federal stimulus spending to fund deployments of electronic medical records systems and other health care IT initiatives.
  • Energy/utilities: While financial compensation is not as high as in other industries, this IT-centric sector generally offers good benefits and in some jobs exposes IT pros to leading-edge technologies.
  • Defense/aerospace: The main draw here is working with highly-educated colleagues, which leads to a "collegial feel" that many folks enjoy, says John Martillo, director of enterprise systems and storage at The Aerospace Corp., which provides technical and scientific R&D services to the U.S. Air Force and NASA.
  • Education: Another sector on track to receive federal stimulus funds, education IT's project schedules generally aren't as hectic as those found in many other sectors.


What about sectors in which IT salaries have suffered? According to the article, IT pros in the manufacturing sector saw an average 4.1 percent drop in total compensation. Close behind were folks in the wholesale and automotive industries, with average declines of 3.1 percent and 2.7 percent, respectively.


A few weeks ago, I wrote about the possibility of losing IT professionals when salaries were cut. I cited David Foote, CEO of Foote Partners, a provider of IT compensation research, who said retaining IT talent is "a huge problem," and companies that cut salaries risk losing their best staffers. Laying off staff and adding their duties to the jobs of those who remain is more common than pay cuts in IT, which results in "a lot of highly paid but burned-out people," he said. However, this can be a risky strategy, as both morale and productivity can take hits following layoffs.


If pay is cut, Foote said companies needed to look at "other avenues of rewarding employees." In a post about staff retention I wrote last summer, I mentioned offering more flexible schedules or added vacation days in lieu of financial compensation. It's important for companies to be willing to cut expenses as much as possible in areas other than salaries, advised a consultant I cited in that post, and also to conduct market research to ensure they are paying salaries that are in line with market rates. A Framework for Setting IT Salaries by Info-Tech Research Group, found in ITBE's Knowledge Network, is a good starting point for such research.


Also, is it just me, or does it concern anyone else that the only sectors seeing IT salary increases are those receiving government aid?