In IT, balance of pain shifts slightly from worker to employer

Barely positive hiring figures reduces sense of being trapped

There is good news about hiring in IT, but the very tiny raises and small increases in hiring aren't really the core of it.

The big shift is that the balance of power -- the balance of pain, really -- is shifting to be a little more balanced between employer and employee than they were during a recession so deep employers could get away with anything while workers hung on by their fingernails because there was nowhere else to go.

According to a survey released yesterday by leading IT job-ad site, more tech workers got bonuses and raises last year than in 2009.

Half of IT people got raises in 2010 compared to 2010, and 29 percent got bonuses compared to 24 percent the year before.

Those are only small signs of positive change.

The big improvements were highly localized -- concentrated mainly in hot technology areas such as Silicon Valley, big companies rather than SMBs and in hot tech companies such as Google, which announced in November it would give all its employees a 10 percent raise and $1,000 bonus.

(The move didn't work out so well for Google in the short term, though.)

Average salaries went from $78,845 in 2009 to $79,385 in 2010, though averages ranged as high as $99,028 in Silicon Valley. Overall that's the same level of increase as last year.

The good news?

Forty percent of the 2,000 IT people responding to the survey said they were dissatisfied enough to switch jobs, which is two percent lower than 2009, but their chances of actually doing it are higher.

Job postings at ad aggregator were up 40 percent in 2010 compared to 2009 and competition was lower. IT job ads averaged 14 clicks each, compared to 49 percent for media jobs and 40 per click for construction jobs, which were Nos. 1 and 2 in the list of most-competitive industries.

Unemployment in IT is also 8.1 percent, compared to 9.4 percent in the general population, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Slight increases in satisfaction levels, combined with positive indications on job availability and decreases in competition for those jobs mean the balance in the job market is shifting to favor IT workers more than during the past two years, though not nearly to the extent it did during the last two economic booms, according to Tom Silver, senior vice president for Dice North America.

The macroeconomic picture shows more hiring, more outsourcing and more churn in IT this year:

"The 2011 employment forecast from Kiplinger projects that 2.5 million jobs will be created this year, up from 1 million new jobs in 2010. Although productivity is still rising, it is climbing at a slower pace, meaning that employers will find it harder to delay hiring workers as the economy expands and new orders increase," according to Industry Market Trends.

" CIOs are outsourcing more technical work, including managed IP services such as VoIP and VPNs. They are hiring more contractors for desktop and security services, and they are putting more applications such as remote backup in the cloud. At the same time, they are looking to hire IT people with business and analytical skills, such as risk management and project management. CIOs report that they're having trouble hiring IT people because either they can't find IT professionals with the right business skills or they can't afford them. All of this means more turnover in IT departments," according to Janco Associates, Inc.'s annual IT compensation survey.

What that all means is that the pain of a tight economy is shifting, very slightly, toward IT workers and away from employers.

The balance has not yet changed. It still takes a lot of searching and prep before you can quit one job and hope to land another as good or better.

But we've stopped moving in the wrong direction and have at least turned to face back to where we ought to be.

Every IT careers story I've written for two years has had a level of fatalism and melancholy from IT workers who felt trapped and managers who didn't like the cutbacks they were forced to make.

That's not completely gone, and there's very little to show things have improved in practical ways.

But the people I've interviewed recently have been a little less Stoic and a little more Utilitarian.

It's not a huge change, but at least it's a change. And it's about time.

Kevin Fogarty writes about enterprise IT for ITworld. Follow him on Twitter @KevinFogarty.

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