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IT jobs on the slow cooker

It's steady as she goes on the high-tech jobs front, with rates and salaries staying static, as the sector mirrors a modest upswing in the national employment market.

A job advertisement survey released last week by ANZ revealed job ads are on the rise for the third consecutive month. Figures for the year to March were up 2.8 per cent to reach their highest level since 2008.

Growth in the resources, oil and gas, utilities and telco sectors is aiding ICT jobs.
Growth in the resources, oil and gas, utilities and telco sectors is aiding ICT jobs. Photo: Paul Jones

Australia's largest jobs site Seek recorded 226,300 ICT job advertisements in the 12 months to March 2012; an increase of 6 per cent on the previous year's figures, while the number of responses to advertisements surged by 56 per cent.

Australian Information Industries Association (AIIA) chief executive Suzanne Campbell said the IT industry was expecting "respectable growth" of 6 per cent in 2012 and IT vendors' hiring patterns were likely to reflect this.

The ICT sector closely followed the overall economy, with the cashed-up mining sector expected to continue spending strongly on big budget, high-tech projects, Campbell said.

News of the upturn comes after a quiet few months on the technology hiring front. According to Peter Acheson, chief executive of the Peoplebank recruitment agency, the market went off the boil in October last year, when reporting of the European debt crisis put a dent in local business confidence.

"In Australia, banks are the largest hirers of IT people and our banks started to be more conservative with hiring," Acheson said.

"It affected the overall market through December, January and February. The market is now coming back but it's not being led by the banks."

Instead, strongest demand was coming from resources, oil and gas, utilities and telecommunications companies, along with the agricultural sector, which had money to spend after a bumper harvest, Acheson said. High-tech spending laggards were the hard pressed retail and manufacturing players, he added.

While the Big Four banks might be firing as many as they're hiring, it's a different story in the insurance sector. IT numbers are set to rise by 10 per cent at one company, Veda, this year as the firm tackles the back room work generated by significant legislative and regulatory change and continues building and deploying new products.

Veda CIO Tony Kesby said the company's IT shop was taking on staff in all areas: "from project managers and business analysts down to code cutters".

"We're growing and growing strongly," Kesby said.

New hires would be split between permanent positions and contract roles, he added.

The latter have long been a feature of the project-driven IT sector – and in these uncertain times there are more of them on offer than ever, courtesy of a market left jittery by the cold winds of the GFC.

Chief executive at the publicly listed employment group Clarius Kym Quick said many companies which had been appeared immune to the GFC had upped their quota of contract staff nevertheless.

"They're still reluctant to hire permanently, just in case," Quick said.

"The work is still there but the nature of engagement has changed."

While recruiters were experiencing a steady pipeline of work, hiring levels had not returned to pre-GFC levels and were unlikely to in the near future, Quick said.

"A lot of companies are moving forward with essential projects but holding off on things that are less mission critical."

And while some CVs can still command a premium – think impeccably credentialed project managers and SAP consultants with resources sector experience – long gone are the sellers' market days when techie types could leave a job at lunchtime and have another lined up to start the next morning, on more money.

According to Peoplebank's March 2012 quarterly salary survey, remuneration levels were static across all sectors of the industry. Current Sydney annual salaries for project managers ranged from $90,000 to $160,000, while developers could expect to earn between $80,000 and $110,000. In Melbourne, salaries ranged from $100,000 to $160,000 for project managers and $55,000 to $130,000 for developers annually.

"In the last 12 months there have been less unrealistic demands regarding salaries," Quick said.

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