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Meta: Despite downturn, IT workers well paid

Jim Rendon

This year may not be a great one for IT salaries, but it's better in the IT shop than in most other parts of the company, according to an annual IT salary survey conducted by the Stamford, Conn., research firm Meta Group.

According to the report, 75% of 650 companies surveyed at the end of 2002 reported that IT staffers earn higher salaries than do their co-workers in non-technical positions.

The reason is simple, said Maria Schafer, Meta Group's program director and the author of the study. "You have to have IT folks to run this stuff," she said. "If you need a network architect, you're going to pay what the market will bear."

That has translated into good news for senior-level employees, Schafer said. Competition for top-level IT people is so strong that 44% of the companies surveyed offered signing bonuses to attract senior-level staff.

But, unfortunately, this trend does not affect everyone. Despite the need for IT personnel, many companies continued to lay off junior and midlevel employees. In general, Schafer found that IT department staffing levels remained the same or shrank between the end of 2001 and the end of 2002.

That understaffing has caused IT departments a number of problems. "The end-user needs have not gone away," Schafer said, "so there is more pressure on managers and more stress on the average employee."

Because of the lean environment, she said, the survey indicates a strong pent-up demand for certain skills. Companies surveyed

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indicated a growing need for Java developers and people with enterprise resource planning (ERP) skills, as well as people with Web development and database skills.

With the war in Iraq in progress and increased anxiety about terrorist activity, Schafer said that she doubts the IT job market will turn around before the end of the year. But, when it does, there is likely to be a rush to fill long-neglected spots.

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