With new areas opening up in IT and others closing, where do the new jobs lie? We look at what will be hot in 2012.
Kevin Francis needs you. Or, maybe, someone like you. As national Microsoft practice manager with development house Object Consulting, Francis has been busy of late hiring staff to keep up with increasing sector demand for IT skills. He’s looking for everything from Java and .NET programmers to people with specialised skills like user experience (UX) designers, business architects and mobile developers.
“It is easy to find some people and hard to find others,” Francis says. “The more specialised the role, the harder it is; in particular, it is difficult to find UX people that are really good, and aren’t just developers who think they know how to make a nice user interface.”
“The days of developers and testers that sit in the corner and don’t talk to anyone are over now,” says Francis. “Developers need specialist skills and at a minimum need to be able to develop systems that are architecturally correct and highly secure. They also need to be a specialist at something, and need the ability to talk, present and understand the business context in which they are operating.”
Francis is one of many employers building up its skills base in a market now typified by high demand and relatively strong supply, with strong resources-sector demand for skills further squeezed by the commencement of major projects like the national broadband network (NBN) and massive IT overhauls at government departments and major banks.
If you have experience in any of a range of in-demand technologies, the consensus amongst recruiters is that your job prospects in 2012 are strong indeed.
“Overall there is high demand for IT candidates across the board,” says Peter Noblet, regional director of IT specialist recruitment firm Hayes Information Technology, “particularly as a result of iPhone/Android technology and the boom in cloud-related applications. The employment market over the past 12 months was dominated by low unemployment and increased job vacancies, and we are now seeing a much faster return to hiring as demand for specific skills grows.”
Demand is running so hot, in fact, that the latest Clarius Skills Index reports a shortage of 2,200 IT workers nationwide, with the company’s index for computing professionals sitting at 101.1 in the March quarter, up from 100.7 in the previous quarter; this reflects a movement away from a situation of equal supply and demand.
“Even in areas of oversupply, employers are still finding it hard to find specific skill sets,” Clarius wrote in its analysis of the numbers. “Rapid developments in the IT sector are leaving many candidates with dated IT skills which are no longer in high demand…. Some of the emerging skills are yet to be developed locally, and this is placing some pressure on the issue of the government’s policy on skilled migration.”
Where the jobs are
The strongest areas of demand are related to growing use of virtualisation and cloud computing in large enterprises, says Noblet, with many organisations looking to implement Exchange 2010 and moving to a virtual environment that’s creating demand for Exchange, VMware, and storage candidates.
Microsoft applications like Windows 7, Windows Server 2008, Exchange, SharePoint and the Lync unified-messaging platform figure strongly in recruiters’ activities due to the ongoing demand for in-house corporate messaging and collaboration platforms: “organisations are captivated by the perceived benefits and capabilities of SharePoint,” Noblet says.
The market has, he adds, been equally voracious for lower-level skills like Java and .NET development, as well as higher-level business analyst and project management nous. And cloud computing expertise, particularly because the sector is relatively young, may prove to be exceptionally valuable to employers.
“Employers are reviewing salaries in response to candidate expectations,” Noblet explains, “particularly for those with niche skills to attract and retain skilled employees. This means that applicants with in demand cloud computing skills are highly employable in both the local and international market and will have the opportunity to pick and choose what companies they want to work for.”
Although technical skills are always in demand, the increasing focus on business analyst and project management skills reflect Australia’s continual realignment at the top end of labour market value-add. “There have been some big increases in demand for people that have the capability to get value from data” through analytics and business intelligence skills, says Matthew Partington, general manager of IT specialist recruitment agency Inspire Recruitment Group, who cites skyrocketing demands from the National Broadband Network (NBN) build and Vodafone’s nationwide network upgrade.
Skills in areas like Microsoft .NET development remain strong as always, says Farrington, but rising demand across the IT sector bodes well for job seekers. “We’ve definitely seen an increase in demand across the board,” he explains, “and in telecoms the demand for people far outstrips the availability of skills in Australia. Indeed, there’s no area where I would think people have been out of work for any long period of time in IT.”
Chris Sandham, managing director of recruitment firm M&T Resources, is seeing similar trends, with growing demand for job-seekers with skills in areas like customer analytics. Given the industry’s newfound obsession with customer service, this is hardly a surprise – and IT job seekers with skills in a range of areas related to customer management should find a relatively open pipeline of work.
“We’re just getting more and more demand from more or less the same skill sets,” says Sandham, who names Java development, e-commerce, web development and testing, and business analyst skills as a key area of demand and cites the post-GFC ramp-up in government projects as another key driver for growth.
“There’s more demand on the business side, for people who understand the business project lifecycle,” he says, “and there’s so much competition in the marketplace. All companies are trying to work out what they’re doing, and technology provides a major part of it.”
Getting on the train
High market demand means high market competition – and while this might favour highly qualified candidates, it may also pressure recent graduates and those who are still building up their portfolio of marketable skills. Those hoping to be hired and given time to build up their skills may find the going a bit more challenging than otherwise, since employers’ predilection for contractors suggests they’re mainly eager to get on with things.
That’s not to say they won’t train the right person, but don’t count on it: citing a mismatch between the skills being taught at university and those the market is demanding, a recent Graduate Careers Australia survey of 100,000 graduates found that 24 per cent of 2010 graduates were unemployed four months after completing their studies; by contrast, in 2009 the rate was 20.8 per cent, and just 15 per cent in 2008.
This means entry-level IT jobs may be hard to come by at first, and you may need to relocate to rural areas where resources giants are hoovering up as many candidates as they can find. For now, if you’re in the market and want to improve your chances at beating out your rivals, it could be a big help to do some skills-specific training to make sure your skill set matches what employers are looking for.
As national marketing and vendor alliance manager with training-industry heavy hitter Dimension Data Learning Services (DDLS), Michelle Dowling has a pretty good idea of just what that is. The company’s latest survey of more than 2,000 business customers, who contact the company to run training in specific skill sets, showed Microsoft skills remain a massive priority, named by 50 per cent of respondents, with VMware (3%) and Citrix (2%) the next most-common technical skills. Business-related skills named by clients included professional development (14%), ITIL (8%), project management (6%) and business analysts (2%).
“It has been a fantastic year for us,” Dowling says. “Lots of people are using the opportunity to skill up, and organisations have freed up funds for their employees to train again. In terms of the skills they’re looking for, there has been a massive upswing in the virtualisation space, and we’ve recently introduced Apple iOS development courses that have seen massive uptake. There’s pent-up demand for smartphone courses, and every course we’ve run has filled up quickly. The time of the developer is now.”
Will certifications alone net you that dream job? They can’t hurt, says Noblet: “In a technology-driven market, technological advances naturally create demand for candidates versed in the new technology while demand declines for those with only skills in the outdated technology. The top candidates are those who continue to develop their core skills.”
Yet many recruiters warn that skills alone aren’t enough for employers who value that hit-the-ground-running panache. “I would say certifications tend to matter very much in the ERP and infrastructure side, and certifications like PMP and ITIL are important in project management and that kid of role,” says Partington.
“But in general, I still think organisations prefer the level of practical experience you have; you can effectively certify yourself in everything just by sitting in a classroom, but the ability to see that on the ground is the primary concern for most companies.”
Object Consulting’s Francis agrees: although skills are obviously important, he says, “I always look for the ability to understand the importance of good architecture; something that has been achieved that demonstrates a real commitment to excellence – even work done outside the 9 to 5, like volunteering; and some specialist capabilities that say ‘this isn’t just another one like all the others’.”
The employment context
At DDLS, at least, surveys show that a growing number of students have come from business backgrounds and layered technical skills on top of that; this is a change from years ago, when developers were technical sorts that then worked their way into business roles. That may not bode well for hardcore coders who don’t get out often, but those that can add specific value to business-related development are likely to find the job market relatively receptive.
The nature of that work is likely to involve contracting type roles rather than full-time employment, with employers favouring candidates who can hit the ground running. “The IT permanent market didn’t perform as well as expected in the second half, with clients very slow to make decisions,” says Linda Trevor, executive general manager with IT specialist recruiter Candle.
“Most of the roles we get are of a contract nature, and if they are permanent roles companies are not in such a hurry to fill them. They’re thinking about it ten times as much as they normally would do, and in the interim they’re getting in contractors and concentrating on performing well.”
Trevor anticipates that regular contract-to-permanent cycles mean the permanent market will pick up in the second half of 2012, as companies select out the best contractors and consider locking in the most valuable skill sets.
Yet there are other factors at play: many companies are casting the recruitment net far and wide, and are quite happy to look overseas to get the skills they need. Continuing demand for 475 visas in IT-related areas has sustained the flow of skilled migrants into Australia, with recruiters often looking overseas if they can’t find the right combination of skills locally. Clarius predicts this trend to continue and grow, with a 3.9 per cent quarter-on-quarter increase in demand unmatched by the current supply of 194,700 professionals in the market – and flagging university IT enrolments offering little long-term opportunity for relief.
“If you just continue to look in the same pond you’re never going to get new skills coming in,” says Sandham. “A lot of our clients do like overseas experience. And if you have industry experience, that’s also big. Our clients are always looking for something that’s going to make them better.”
This reality confirms both how hungry employers are for top-shelf skills – and how hard you’ll have to work to make sure your application is competitive. And, no matter how hungry the skills market might be, these realities hold particularly true for recent university graduates, who may be entering a market hungry for skills but face real constraints from their lack of on-the-ground experience.
Getting this experience takes time – and for many companies, the pressure towards virtualisation, mobility, large-scale development and other business changes simply means that time is a luxury they don’t have.
This suggests better results for overseas job seekers and experienced Australians; as in the past, this year’s graduates may be particularly well advised to start their careers with KPMG, Deloitte, PricewaterhouseCoopers or another sizeable consulting firm with clearly delineated staff development programs that provide opportunities to get on-the-job business experience.
Start small and build up your experience with relevant skills and appropriate on-the-job placements, and 2012’s jobs market should find you some very real opportunities even if it means contracting rather than permanent employment. The key, recruiters seem to agree, is simply to get out there and make yourself known. Your dream job is out there somewhere, and 2012 is shaping up to be a great time to find it.
“I was speaking with our Canberra branch manager the other day and asked where their shortages are,” says Candle’s Trevor. “She said ‘they’re across the board; we’ll take anything’. There’s so much enabling technology – tablets, cloud, and so on – that people don’t understand yet; if I were starting out in technology, I would focus on those technologies. If someone’s got particular experience in any given area, we can place them.”