Our survey of 1,172 IT professionals finds that demand for some IT skills is strong but the pandemic has influenced the rate of hiring and roles that are being prioritized.

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Insider Pro | Computerworld    IT Salary Survey 2021    Hiring

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IT Salary Survey 2021

In what has been a most extraordinary 12 months, we wanted to understand the prospects for IT professionals as we look forward to another year of disruption and change. How strong will the IT recruitment market be and which skills are in most demand? Has the pandemic changed hiring plans and which IT skills are no longer considered critical?

The 2021 IDG Insider Pro and Computerworld IT Salary Survey of 1,172 IT professionals reveals a changing landscape, accelerated by the IT demands of the COVID-19 pandemic.

A total of 48 percent of the survey respondents were in either senior or mid-level management roles, so we have focused on what leaders are thinking and planning. Of course, any forward thinking at this point in time is going to be dominated by the impact of COVID-19. Leaders will be influenced, to some extent, by economic outlooks for 2021. PwC predicts economies in decline (with the exception of China, Ireland and Turkey), analysis mirrored by FitchRatings’ global economic outlook.

The IT industry, however, has been buoyed by the rapid acceleration of digital transformations, as many organizations reacted at lightening pace, to the demands of remote working. According to our survey, half (50 percent) of IT leaders expect IT headcount to increase this year. Just eight percent are expecting a decrease in headcount, with 48 percent predicting it will remain the same.

In what has been a most extraordinary 12 months, we wanted to understand the prospects for IT professionals as we look forward to another year of disruption and change. How strong will the IT recruitment market be and which skills are in most demand? Has the pandemic changed hiring plans and which IT skills are no longer considered critical?

The 2021 IDG Insider Pro and Computerworld IT Salary Survey of 1,172 IT professionals reveals a changing landscape, accelerated by the IT demands of the COVID-19 pandemic.

A total of 48 percent of the survey respondents were in either senior or mid-level management roles, so we have focused on what leaders are thinking and planning. Of course, any forward thinking at this point in time is going to be dominated by the impact of COVID-19. Leaders will be influenced, to some extent, by economic outlooks for 2021. PwC predicts economies in decline (with the exception of China, Ireland and Turkey), analysis mirrored by FitchRatings’ global economic outlook.

The IT industry, however, has been buoyed by the rapid acceleration of digital transformations, as many organizations reacted at lightening pace, to the demands of remote working. According to our survey, half (50 percent) of IT leaders expect IT headcount to increase this year. Just eight percent are expecting a decrease in headcount, with 48 percent predicting it will remain the same.

Insider Pro | Computerworld  >  IT Salary Survey 2021  >  Hiring Plans

Compared with our 2020 survey, there is not a lot to choose between the numbers, with 47 percent of leaders saying they expected a rise in headcount during 2020 and 47 percent expecting headcount to remain the same, even in the middle of a pandemic.

But as one Colorado-based network administrator claimed, COVID is not impacting hiring “too much” adding, “we’re still busy and moving ahead with expansions that were planned.”

Transformations driving skills demand

According to research from IDC, over the next couple of years we will see IT spending going down three main routes. The first is creating digital parity within a hybrid workforce, to ensure consistency and collaboration regardless of location. The second is designing for new customer demands, such as contactless consumer experiences, virtual tools, self-service and so on. The third is accelerating automation, through Robotic process automation (RPA), robotics, and artificial intelligence (AI), to deliver scale and efficiencies.

Against this backdrop of change, IT leaders are already recognizing the necessary skills to meet these sorts of challenges. According to our 2021 survey, cloud computing, BI/analytics and data science are more likely to be mentioned as sought-after skills over the next 12 months. All registered growth in interest this year when compared with the 2020 survey, with 33 percent claiming cloud computing would be one of the top IT skills leaders will hire this year. An additional 22 percent chose business analytics (up from 21 percent in 2020) and 21 percent business intelligence (up from 18 percent last year). Data science saw a five percent increase from 12 percent in 2020 to 17 percent in 2021.

“We are a cloud based IT solution provider and COVID-19 has provided new opportunities as the remote worker concept has increased in the workforce,” said one CIO from Texas, supporting the idea that remote working has led to an increased demand for Cloud-based skills.

Application development was also registered by 33 percent of leaders, mirroring last year’s figure but there were also some notable changes in terms of skills that seemingly dropped in importance, or are already suitably resourced. Security skills, for example, are on the wish list of 29 percent of IT leaders, down from 31 percent last year. And there was no movement for AI/Machine learning skills at 16 percent, while RPA registered just three percent, down from four percent last year. The automation technologies are perhaps, still considered future skills and not essential, at least in the short term during the pandemic.

Insider Pro | Computerworld  >  IT Salary Survey 2021  >  Hiring: What's Hot? What's Not?

So, what about skills that IT leaders no longer regard as priorities? Top of the list remains legacy skills. In 2020, 40 percent of leaders claimed this was no longer a priority, while in 2021 that figure has reduced slightly to 37 percent, perhaps reflecting the progress of digital transformations and therefore less reliance on old tech.

Other skills which are losing their shine, due to either automation or increased competency across users include social networking (18 percent), Windows admin (16 percent) and messaging/email (16 percent). Interestingly, 18 percent cited blockchain, still a new technology but one that does not require immediate attention, or at least volume attention, from some IT leaders.

The overall picture is a positive one for IT professionals in 2021. IT leaders do expect to increase their headcounts this year, and while 48 percent expect those new hires to be in highly skilled roles, there will be opportunities for entry-level technical positions, at least according to 23 percent of respondents. In a year when some industries are being turned on their heads and people are losing jobs, many IT professionals have good reason to be optimistic.

However, it pays to remain cautious and develop new skills to meet the changing demands of industry. As a World Economic Forum report on the Future of Jobs recently found, “84 percent of employers are set to rapidly digitalize working processes, including a significant expansion of remote work—with the potential to move 44 percent of their workforce to operate remotely.” Times are changing but these changing times demand technology solutions. As organizations consider a hybrid working future, concerns over productivity and well-being will lead to more digital tools, automation and a need for skills to make this work. For IT professionals, surely, this can only be a good thing.

Where do we go from here? The impact of COVID-19

While the pandemic certainly tested the majority of IT workers, with sudden demands for remote working and everything that it entailed, to organizational IT structures and cybersecurity, it has done little to dampen enthusiasm in recruitment.

With over half of IT leaders expecting to increase headcount this year, it’s a positive sign, although when these new hires actually happen is now open to question. Nearly half of respondents (49 percent) report that the pandemic triggered layoffs and/or hiring delays. Just 14 percent of IT leaders claim they are expanding headcount or accelerating recruitment as a direct result of the pandemic.

Insider Pro | Computerworld  >  IT Salary Survey 2021  >  The Pandemic's Effect on Staffing

Interestingly, this has also been reflected to some extent in compensation, with 53 percent of those that saw a salary decrease (six percent in 2021 compared with four percent in 2020) claiming it was due to COVID-19. Of course, six percent is not a huge number in the overall picture but we are still in the middle of a pandemic and have yet to experience the full impact, at least economically.

“This is the first time that we’ve hired remote-first teams,” said one Detroit-based application developer, when asked about the impact of COVID. “Otherwise, hiring plans are really market-driven, and we’re in a growth phase for the foreseeable future.”

“Early in the pandemic, there was concern about job security,” added one North Carolina-based IT worker. “We’re in Q4 now, and hiring tends to slow down or freeze, to ensure profitability for the year. I believe COVID-19 mandated a hiring freeze sooner than normal.”

As the World Economic Forum report on the Future of Jobs suggests, “automation, in tandem with the COVID-19 recession, is creating a ‘double-disruption’ scenario for workers,” but adds that “technological adoption by companies will transform tasks, jobs and skills by 2025. Forty-three percent of businesses surveyed indicate that they are set to reduce their workforce due to technology integration, 41 percent plan to expand their use of contractors for task-specialized work, and 34 percent plan to expand their workforce due to technology integration.”

What is clear is that, at the moment at least there is no clarity. We are in the middle of a period of dramatic change and what IT leaders are showing is that IT professionals need to keep apace with that change, adapt and stay relevant.

[ Coming up this week: detailed analyses of job satisfaction, and technology certifications. And – how to get your hands on the full Salary Survey 2021 data set. ]