US job market for IT continues to sizzle

US job market for IT continues to sizzle

In the US, this summer's not the only thing that's hot: the job market for IT staffers hasn't lost any of its sizzle, either.

Two recent studies -- conducted by the American Electronics Association (AEA) and Hewitt Associates LLC -- address different sides of the same issue. One is how a lack of college graduates with high-tech degrees has led to the current IT staff shortage for companies. The second is how that lack translates, still, into relatively high salaries for the technically proficient.

According to the AEA, the high-tech industry in the US has created more than one million new jobs since 1993. That has taken place at the same time as the number of college graduates with high-tech diplomas -- in areas including engineering, computer science, mathematics, business information systems and physics -- decreased by 5 per cent between 1990 and 1996.

The unemployment rate for high-tech workers is extremely low for engineers (1.6 per cent), computer programmers (1.4 per cent) and maths and computer science grads (1.2 per cent), said the AEA, a Washington-based organisation that represents electronics, software and IT vendors.

Meanwhile, Hewitt said companies are scrambling to find IT employees with hot skills. As a result, the company said this week that IT professionals with those skills often receive base pay increases of 10 to 20 per cent per year, compared with the 4 to 5 per cent national average annual increases for non-IT salaried exempt US employees, Hewitt said.

Signing, retention and project completion bonuses are used more for IT professionals than for other groups, the study said. Approximately 10 per cent of IT professionals received stock options in the past six months, while 7 per cent were given stock gains, Hewitt said.

IT staffers in ERP (enterprise resource planning) are currently commanding the highest pay, Hewitt said. The company predicted that future shortages will hit the following areas: call centre architecture, information security, telecommunications engineering, Internet/intranet development, network engineering, disaster recovery and data mining/warehousing.

According to the study, the turnover rate of IT employees averages under 16 per cent, while it averages three months to replace those workers. Twenty-eight per cent of the companies said at least 10 per cent of their high-tech spots were vacant. And that shortage is expected to continue after the year 2000 transition.

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