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IT Opportunities on the Rebound

2004 InformationWeek salary survey reports that job challenges - and compensation - will start looking up for IT professionals.

Although IT professionals have seen better days as far as job advancement and job security are concerned, opportunities are likely to rebound along with salaries, finds InformationWeek's (an Insurance & Technology sibling publication; Manhasset, N.Y.) 2004 National IT Salary Survey. More than 10,000 full-time IT professionals (475 from insurance companies) completed the survey, which was designed to measure various aspects of compensation, benefits and job satisfaction.

According to the survey's findings, a challenging job is the one thing that matters most to more than half of IT staff and 68 percent of IT managers. Only 32 percent of staffers and 44 percent of managers, however, feel challenged in their current positions. Another key factor relating to job satisfaction is stability, the study reports. But only 31 percent of staffers and 40 percent of managers surveyed feel strongly secure in their current positions. Additionally, 47 percent of insurance technologists are satisfied with their position overall.

Still, while IT was once thought of as a lucrative career path, the majority of IT professionals who participated in the study reported that they think a career in IT is not as promising as it was five years ago. Some of these feelings may stem from the surge of outsourcing deals that firms have engaged in over the past few years, suggests InformationWeek.

The survey's results show that the current mind-set of IT personnel is that jobs are moving offshore but, according to the research's findings, the movement of IT tasks offshore isn't making as large an impact on U.S. jobs as most believe it is. Just over half of the firms surveyed are currently outsourcing some or all of their IT jobs - approximately 20 percent of the firms surveyed outsource to a company in the U.S., while 16 percent outsource offshore. An additional 16 percent use a combination of U.S. and offshore outsourcing partners, InformationWeek finds. So why the misconception?

Maria Schaffer, senior program director, META Group (Stamford, Conn.), suggests that the perception that current outsourcing trends equate to fewer jobs in the U.S. may stem from an over-exaggeration by the media. "The overwhelming majority of companies are not [outsourcing offshore] yet," she says. "The practice has gotten lots of attention in the news, [but] a lot of it is just hype."

Another factor that should help IT professionals breathe a collective sigh of relief is the economy's movement from recovery to growth. Also indicating better times to come is a growth in salaries and compensation.

InformationWeek's research indicates that the compounded annual growth rate for salaries has risen to 6.4 percent for staff and 6.1 percent for management. The median annual base salary for insurance company IT staff is $73,000, and $96,000 for management. The research also finds that the biggest reason for bonuses remains personal performance - application development and project management are the skills most likely to reap bonuses. Not surprisingly, the study also finds that IT professionals who work in large organizations such as insurance companies continue to earn higher salaries, and age and experience pay off in terms of larger compensation packages.

Conversely, new hires are coming in at greatly reduced salaries. And the majority of unemployed IT professionals looking for work are finding that their biggest challenge is low wages. Despite these findings, IT professionals are still in demand and they still garner some of the highest wages in the nation. While 3 percent of IT professionals remain unemployed, headhunters continue to look for people to fill IT openings for various specialties. And compensation is commensurate with experience. "A lot of jobs require expertise, knowledge and specialized skill in order to keep salaries higher," relates Schaffer.

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