IT jobs market in Christmas slowdown

A dramatic fall in the number of IT staff looking for work may see organisations resort to increasing pay rates to secure the technical skills they need.

Research from ATSCo and the SkillsMarket shows the number of IT workers job-seeking in the UK in the last quarter of 2007 is down by one-third.

This time last year, 42% of IT workers were open to work or actively seeking jobs, but the figure has now sunk to 28%, says the groups' survey of 5,000 IT workers.

As demand for IT skills in most sectors remains "strong", the drying up of its supply will alarm employers and may worsen skill shortages, ATSCo said on Monday.

But speaking yesterday, one IT recruitment agency said the smaller candidate pool is merely part of the traditional quiet period in the run up to Christmas.

Luke Archer, managing director of IT & Telecoms recruitment at Hudson, told CUK: "There is a common seasonal trend at the end of each year when candidates become like loyal employees again.

"In other words, people stop looking for work unless they are desperate. This all changes again once the New Year resolutions kick in and it's back to work with one eye on the recruitment market for their next move."

But according to ATSCo, the decline in technical job-seekers is more to do with attractive incentives convincing IT staff from looking elsewhere.

"Many organisations have reinstated the retention policies for IT workers, such as share options, which were shelved at the end of the dot com boom," the group said.

"The increasing value of these benefits may be persuading more IT workers to stay longer in their current positions."

Regardless of the motives, a slump in the available supply of IT expertise could weigh heavily on employers' bottom lines in early 2008.

This is because low liquidity in the IT jobs market tends to hamper skills development, said Ann Swain, chief executive of the Association of Technology Staffing Companies (ATSCo).

She added: "Workers are far more likely to acquire new skills by changing jobs, so if they are not moving employers will have to spend more on formal training."

The alternative for employers is to offer better remuneration to IT workers, whether it is through share options or headline pay rates.

"Share options in web start-ups are potentially much more valuable now" Ms Swain said. "People have seen the big Web 2.0 acquisitions and think the company they work for might be next.

"Demand for IT skills is still high, so if people are reluctant to change jobs, employers may need to offer more generous compensation packages than they have budgeted for in order to get the skills they need."

But fears of business slowdown may scare employers from offering premiums higher than the rates seen in the late 1990s. IT staff, particularly freelance contractors, also like to remain agile, Hudson said.

Mr Archer explained: "In my experience the majority of candidates working in IT like to consider their options and have an ongoing interest in their next career move, be it with a new company that will enhance their technical experience, or in some cases, just for the money.

"Typical impact on [contractors' pay] rates will be [based on] supply and demand, [so] rates would go up, but I don't think that will be the case in the current economic climate, [corporate] people are worried about budgets."

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