The immediate outlook for IT staff in the UK is bleak with redundancies rising, salaries falling and less training going on.
The gloomy figures for the first quarter of 2003 are revealed in the latest e-skills UK quarterly review of the information and communication technology (ICT) labour market.
A fall in private sector IT spend is singled out as one of the main causes, with Office for National Statistics figures recording a £75m, or three percent, decline in hardware and software investment, particularly in the manufacturing sector.
As a result of IT cutbacks by many businesses, the overall number of ICT staff made redundant in the UK rose to 10,000 for the quarter, with unemployment rates for IT staff climbing to 4.6 percent. IT managers suffered most, with a drop of 21,000 people to 249,000.
A brief rally at the start of the year that saw an increase in advertised IT vacancies has also come to an abrupt halt, according to the e-skills report.
The report said: "This was not sustained and the recruitment market slipped into decline once again during the following months."
IT staff receiving job-related training also fell to 13 percent -- 2 per cent below UK all industry average.
The one bright spot is the telecoms sector, with employers more positive about future recruitment than other UK employers for the first time since 2001. Almost a fifth of firms expected to increase staffing levels in the coming quarter.
A separate report by the Recruitment and Employment Confederation (REC) and Deloitte & Touche also makes depressing reading for IT staff, with figures showing the computing sector as having the weakest demand for staff in June.
But Toni Cocozza, chairperson for the REC's IT and communications division, said signs of growth will take longer to filter through to the IT sector.
"The higher costs involved in recruiting IT professionals mean that it takes longer to see signs of improvement. Employers are understandably cautious about spending, but IT is a business-critical investment, and one can expect improvement."