After years in the wilderness, the Australian IT industry is again booming as major industries across the country invest heavily in their IT infrastructure.
Unlike the dot com bubble boom at the end of the '90s, which was driven by "irrational exuberance", Y2K and the GST, the growth currently being experienced in IT is being driven by diverse, and substantially more stable factors.
While recruitment firms and enterprises users are reporting different levels of demand, most agree on one area where there is a shortfall.
Over the next five days, ZDNet Australia will reveal where the gaps lie, which jobs are hot, where to apply, and what you can expect to be paid.
Which tech jobs are hot?
The short answer to this is -- just about everything. Whether you cut code, administrate systems, test or even build Web sites there is an Australian employer looking for you right now.
Unlike the dot com bubble boom at the end of the '90s, which was driven by "irrational exuberance", Y2K and the GST, the growth currently being experienced in IT is being driven by diverse, and substantially more stable factors -- much to the delight of industry pundits.
According to Bob Olivier, director of the Olivier Recruitment Group, which monitors the strength of the jobs market by tallying positions advertised on the Internet, over the last 12 months the number of IT positions advertised has grown by 35.4 percent.
"Although it was a little slow at the beginning of the year, between January and March the average number of IT jobs advertised shot up from 14,500 advertised positions to 19,700 positions," Olivier says.
Unlike the '90s, when demand for IT was almost countercyclical with general business demand, the current growth is underpinned by a robust economy with IT jobs only slightly ahead of the overall average, which is sitting at about 30 percent.
In no uncertain terms, the boom in IT is being driven by broader economic growth.
"We're seeing a very strong IT market at the moment in Australia," says Peter Acheson, CEO of recruitment, research and IT consultancy firm Ambit Group. "The top 100 companies in Australia are all investing heavily in IT to take cost out of their operations and increase efficiency. In Canberra the Federal Government has embarked on a number of major projects, and across the business community there is a real shift away from the cynicism we saw at the beginning of the century."
Due to the heavy investment in infrastructure, positions in software development and engineering are far and away experiencing the strongest growth. According to Olivier's Job Index, opportunities for these roles have grown by 48.66 percent in the last 12 months.
Demand for network administration and security specialists -- a long time leader in the industry -- has come off the boil but is still experiencing a growth in demand of around 29 percent. Even vacancies for Internet and multimedia specialists have experienced a resurgence, growing by 65 percent in the last 12 months.
Charged with the task of filling as many of these positions as possible Daryl Keeley, managing director of Macro Recruitment, says the skills in SAP, PHP, C++ and CORBA are in high demand across Australia, thanks to substantial and sustained investment in ERP (enterprise resource planning) systems, and Web-based business software. Keeley's also on the lookout for Unix network administrators, financial administration developers, Lotus Notes specialists, anyone with C# or .NET experience, knowledge of Natural Adabas, and as many experienced testers as he can get his hands on (see table below).
"Testing used to be a job that you were relegated to when you first came out of uni, but these days it's taken very seriously as a profession, and businesses are increasingly looking for certified experienced testers to work with their development teams," Keeley says.
While different recruitment firms report different levels of demand, the one area everyone agrees on is SAP, which was installed extensively throughout state and federal government agencies and the private sector in the late 1990s. There is a significant shortage of people with experience in the administration of functional management of this software and other ERP packages from Oracle and Peoplesoft.
The 10 most sought after categories are listed below. Tune in to Day Two of our coverage to find out in which state these skills and others are most in demand.
|1||SAP, Oracle and Peoplesoft specialists|
|4||Unix network administrators|
|6||Java and J2EE developers|
|7||Lotus Notes specialists|
Where the jobs are
Where you are and where you're prepared to move to are important factors when it comes to finding work in the IT industry today.
Andrew Millar, consulting manager for the IT Contracts Division at Link Recruitment (which has offices across the country) says while the traditional markets of Sydney and Melbourne remain strong, lifestyle choices and better Internet connections are leading to growth in other states as well.
"Generally the demand for IT staff in Melbourne and Sydney is greater than in other areas due to the size of the cities and the fact that that's where most large corporates are based," Millar says. "However ,there is an increasing level of activity in Brisbane, Adelaide and Perth as IT becomes more and more accessible to the wider community due to Web technologies."
There are also significant drivers at the macroeconomic level which are leading to demand outside Sydney and Melbourne. A booming resources sector in Western Australia is making Perth an attractive option -- and Queensland is riding a similar wave -- while a raft of government work is increasing demand in the ACT (see table below).
According to the Olivier Recruitment Group's Job Index, which researches demand based on Internet advertisements in Queensland, the state's job market is going gangbusters -- growing by 86.4 percent in the last 12 months. While demand for IT skills in WA is similarly high, Olivier director Bob Olivier believes growth rates in job advertisements in Perth and surrounding areas are due in part to difficulties in convincing skilled, experienced professionals to move from the eastern states.
"We often see a lot of growth in areas like Perth and Brisbane, not so much because there is substantial growth in the number of jobs, but because there is a mismatch between supply and demand," offers Olivier. "If a position hasn't been filled it will continue to be advertised and counted each week."
Leading the boom is demand for skills in the customisation and management of ERP packages from SAP, Oracle and Peoplesoft. After heavy investment from government departments, universities, and Australia's top 100 ASX-listed companies, most of the demand for skills in this area is focused in the head-office centres like Sydney and Melbourne. Nonetheless the minerals boom and accompanying skills shortage is pushing up demand and salaries in non-traditional areas like Brisbane and Perth.
Microsoft-based government projects are seeing a healthy demand for these skills, as well as for developers with .NET and C# experience in the ACT and QLD.
Industry pundits generally agree that Business Analyst roles are particularly hard to fill in the rapidly expanding economies of WA and QLD, because the position increasingly requires both IT and business experience in a particular sector.
This in turn means prospective candidates with several years' experience are often already established in a particular city, and less likely to pick up and move to another state. "It is challenging to get people to move if they are older, more experienced or have a wife and family already established in one city," says Darly Keeley, managing director of Macro Recruitment. "And the problem is exacerbated in regional areas. Often companies in places like Shepparton will source staff directly from overseas rather than try to recruit from within Australia."
The IT jobs boom is also affecting whether or not you can expect permanent or contract work. Find out how in Day Three of our coverage.
|1||SAP, Oracle and Peoplesoft specialists||NSW, QLD, VIC and ACT|
|2||PHP developers||NSW, VIC|
|3||C++ or CORBA developers||NSW, VIC|
|4||Unix network administrators||NSW, VIC, QLD|
|5||Business analysts||QLD, WA, NSW, VIC|
|6||Java and J2EE developers||NSW, QLD, WA|
|7||Lotus Notes specialists||NSW, VIC|
|8||C# developers||ACT, QLD|
|9||.NET developers||ACT, QLD|
Permanent vs. contract
During the heady days of the dot com bubble, when jobs were there for the taking, and even semi-skilled staff were commanding significant salaries, IT made a name for itself as a contract industry.
However, the latest spike in demand for staff is seeing a shift in this thinking. Gone is the bubble "build-it-and-they-will-come" mentality, having been replaced by heavy investment in structural, outcomes-focused projects, and an associated long-term vision.
Corporate Australia is also well aware of a looming skills shortage across all sectors, including healthcare and hospitality, as generation X and Y DINKs (double income, no kids) buck breeding for big spending.
Peter Acheson, CEO of technology recruitment specialist Ambit says such influences are creating an IT jobs market where employers are looking to convert long-term contractors to permanent positions, and provide long-term career paths rather that project-based contract work.
"While contractors in a boom prefer to be contractors, at the moment business is trying to convince them to take on permanent roles," Acheson says. "Although contracting in IT is still strong compared to other industries, there is a shift towards more permanent recruitment practices, as management attempts to mitigate against future shortages with a strong internal skills base of permanent staff."
Andrew Millar, consulting manager for the IT Contracts Division at Link Recruitment, says the boom is producing a cyclical demand for permanent or full-time staff, although in a market where demand is often outstripping supply, business is prepared to make compromises where necessary.
"Most companies are using agencies for contract work and are more likely to try and fill the permanent roles themselves," Millar says.
Characterising this trend as "try-before-you-buy", Macro Recuritment managing director Daryl Keeley says the current phase of growth is seeing corporations and government agencies switch long-term contractors to permanent positions where possible.
"When the market is buoyant, like it is at the moment, smart companies are adopting a strategic plan to keep good staff on for the long term," Keeley says.
As a result many IT professionals are finding themselves torn between attractive offers from current employers, and interstate opportunities that promise good remuneration and lifestyle premiums.
Although the business cycles underpinning these trends are perhaps the most obvious, there are also technical cycles at work. Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) software packages adopted at the turn of the century are now past the customisation phase which relies heavily on contractors -- and as a result demand for these short-term positions has subsided in the wake of demand for more long-term management and administrative roles.
Many of the government contracts responsible for job growth in the ACT are in the early part of this cycle, and are taking on contractors where possible to participate in the initial development and implementation project phase. Sydney- and Melbourne-based developers can be found populating Canberra bed-and-breakfasts at the moment, as government agencies attempt to source short-term staff to fill project gaps.
While permanent positions have been strengthening, this kind of project work is also readily available, says Peter Noblet, a regional director at recruitment company Hays.
"Job opportunities are occurring across the board in both these areas. There has been a sharp increase in contract assignments due to the number of large projects taking place," Noblet says. "Generally opportunities are split 50/50 between permanent and contract."
However, with demand for skilled staff so high across Australia, experienced techies can largely pick and choose, where, when and under what conditions they work.
To find out whether you'll need a degree, professional certificate or just experience to land your dream job, check out Day Four's coverage.
Once upon a time, a TAFE course in Multimedia was enough education to get a job with a $90,000 pay packet, but times have changed.
At the same time as the IT industry is showing healthy growth, IT enrollments at universities have been trailing steadily downward over the last few years, prompting suggestions the industry is about to be strangled by a skills shortage.
"This is often the case, where industry begins to rebound and starts calling for skilled staff, but the supply side just can't operate that quickly, so you either have to wait or to train staff yourself," offers Bob Olivier, director of Olivier Recruitment Group. "Because they are not able to source staff with two or three years' experience, a lot of companies are recruiting graduates straight out of uni."
As a result, demand for IT graduates has more than doubled over the last 12 months, according to the Olivier Index. In a sellers' market, those seeking to hire skilled people are prepared to take just about anyone they can get, although degrees with a high industry participation rate and business skills components are favoured.
According to Andrew Millar, consulting manger for Link Recruitment, would-be IT professionals need to do their homework from the outset to find out what particular approach is taken by the different institutions they are considering.
"University courses vary in their profile, offering and cost. For example, Swinburne is known as an institution that offers IT/Business-related courses. Most graduates come out of Swinburne and go into more functional roles," Millar says. "RMIT is much more technical. Most graduates end up in development or more hands-on roles. However, you don't necessarily have to go to uni; professional certificates and TAFE courses can quite often be sufficient for some roles."
The Holy Grail for many roles, and certainly for long-term career prospects, remains a mixture of business and technical skills.
"My advice to anybody looking to pursue a career in IT would be to consider studying a combination of business and IT skills at an academic institution known for its strong links to business," Millar says. "When it comes to work experience, get in on the ground floor and be prepared to work your way up."
According to Daryl Keeley, director of Macro Recruitment, universities across Australia have become very good at providing opportunities for students to get a good grounding in business, so that recent graduates are work-ready from the time they finish their degree. However, he points out that the IT industry is just as ready to recognise experience and professional certification as a university degree.
"Having a Cisco certification or an MCSE is always handy. It gives you a bit more credibility, and may mean the difference between landing a job and being overlooked," Keeley says.
Professional certification can also serve as a stepping stone from the traditional business role into the IT sector, although in many cases it may not be necessary. According to Peter Acheson, CEO of Ambit Recruitment Group, in management circles, the requirement for business nous usually comes before any call for technical skills.
"A lot of IT project managers and IT business analysts don't come from an IT background," Acheson says. "There are lots of opportunities in IT for people with a background in business, where the technical skills are a nice-to-have, but are not fundamental to the role."
So if you're in tech and want to go further faster, look for ways to get experience in business. Professional certification is fundamental to specific roles, but for many serves as a stepping stone rather than a career goal, and can often be interchanged with professional experience.
What should you expect to get paid? All will be revealed tomorrow.
Show me the money!
If you sit still for long enough in any economics lecture, someone will draw a big x on a whiteboard, label one arm "supply" and the other "demand", tell you that's how the world operates and mumble through a range of "exceptions" to this nearly infallible rule.
If you've been reading over the past week about the booming demand for IT skills, you're probably already tweaking your superannuation forecasts. But don't go booking your retirement for the age of 55, because in the real world economists' predictions are almost always wrong, and an effect called "lag" is putting a break on IT salaries when they should be going through the roof (see table below).
According to Peter Noblet, a regional director at recruitment company Hays, despite the skills shortage in the sector, employer offers are still falling short of candidates' expectations.
"The idea that employers need to look at the salaries they offer in light of the increasing skills shortage is slowly filtering through, and employers are beginning to realise that if they are able to meet candidate expectations, they can source talent from a wider pool," Noblet says.
"There is also a reticence by a lot of employers to dilute the requirements of what they have for a role. Certainly, specific skills are necessary to successfully perform any role, however experience using those skills in a particular sector should be an area of flexibility. In our current market, flexibility is a critical feature in successfully filling a role."
Western Australia and Queensland are a case in point -- both states are experiencing serious shortages in IT staff, but salary growth in the IT sector is weak at best.
In the dot com bust, it was the most-inflated salaries that were the first to go, and while the current growth pattern appears more sustainable, highly paid staff will still be expected to earn their way.
The slow but steady upward climb of wages in the IT sector is a mixed blessing for IT professionals, as corporations only operate effectively if they get what they pay for, and any high-paid job requires constant and ongoing effort.
Peter Acheson, CEO of recruitment group Ambit puts the current skills shortage and upward pressure on wages into a wider context, pointing out that smart CIOs will not be prepared to pay dearly for skills which can be just as easily outsourced or sent overseas.
"Over the next few years we're going to see a lot of operational roles go offshore or get outsourced," Acheson says. "However, smart CIOs won't be prepared to outsource high-value components of their business."
For the run-of-the-mill techie this basically means upgrade your skills, and make sure that you're not only prepared to win that high-paid role, but also to continually align your skills base with the demands of the corporate environment.
|1||SAP, Oracle and Peoplesoft specialists||NSW, QLD, VIC and ACT||$110-130K|
|2||PHP developers||NSW, VIC||$55-$85K|
|3||C++/CORBA developers||NSW, VIC||$40-$80K|
|4||Unix network administrators||NSW, VIC, QLD||$55-$90K|
|5||Business analysts||QLD, WA, NSW, VIC||$80-100K|
|6||Java and J2EE developers||NSW, QLD, WA||$64-$105K|
|7||Lotus Notes specialists||NSW, VIC||$75-90K|
|8||C# developers||ACT, QLD||$90-120K|
|9||.NET developers||ACT, QLD||$90-120K|