West South Central States Most Optimistic About Employment Growth

Nov 25, 2003

MENLO PARK, CA -- A majority (84 percent) of chief information officers (CIOs) interviewed for Robert Half Technology's Information Technology Hiring Index and Skills Report expect to maintain current staff levels in the first quarter of 2004. Nine percent of executives surveyed plan to expand their information technology (IT) departments by adding full-time staff in the upcoming quarter and 6 percent anticipate personnel reductions. The net 3 percent hiring increase compares with a net 5 percent increase forecast last quarter.

The national poll includes responses from more than 1,400 CIOs from a stratified random sample of U.S. companies with 100 or more employees. It was conducted by an independent research firm and developed by Robert Half Technology, a leading provider of IT professionals on a project and full-time basis.

Key Findings

  • Business expansion continues to be the leading factor driving IT hiring.
  • CIOs in the West South Central states and the finance, insurance and real estate sector are most optimistic about future hiring activity.
  • Applications development is the specialization experiencing the strongest growth, according to CIOs surveyed.
  • Eighty-four percent of IT executives expect to maintain current staffing levels.

"Despite recent positive signs for the economy, CIOs remain conservative in their management of human resources," said Katherine Spencer Lee, executive director of Robert Half Technology. "Instead of making permanent staff additions, a number of executives are utilizing project professionals to meet rising workloads and delaying full-time hiring until they see a sustained economic recovery."

For 37 percent of the CIOs surveyed for this report, business growth is the primary driver of hiring activity. The need for increased customer support is also a determining factor. Nearly one quarter (23 percent) of executives described this as the leading indicator driving IT hiring within their firms, up four percentage points from the fourth quarter.

Executives from midsize companies were most optimistic about their hiring plans during the first quarter. Thirteen percent of CIOs at firms with 250-499 employees said they expect to add personnel and 5 percent forecast staff reductions, resulting in a net 8 percent hiring increase. At businesses with 500-999 employees, 13 percent of IT executives plan to expand their departments and 7 percent anticipate staff cutbacks. The net 6 percent hiring increase is twice the national average.

Skills in Demand

CIOs surveyed were asked to identify the specific skill sets in the greatest demand within their IT departments. Eighty-two percent of CIOs reported a need for Microsoft Windows (NT/2000/XP) administrators. SQL Server administration was also a sought-after specialty, receiving 56 percent of the response. Cisco network administration was selected as a high-demand specialty by 38 percent of executives. (Note: Survey respondents were allowed multiple responses.)

When asked which job categories were experiencing the greatest growth within their IT departments, 18 percent of CIOs said applications development. "Firms looking to accelerate development time and unify systems are actively recruiting individuals skilled in the .NET platform," Lee said.

Networking was identified as the second most sought-after job, with 13 percent of the response. Help desk/end-user support ranked third with 12 percent of executives singling out this area of expertise.

Regional Outlook

The West South Central1 region of the United States is expected to lead the nation in technology hiring activity during the first quarter. Thirteen percent of CIOs plan to expand their IT departments and 3 percent anticipate personnel cutbacks. The net 10 percent increase is up seven points from the region's fourth-quarter forecast.

"CIOs in the West South Central region are reporting increased demand for applications developers and network administrators skilled in Linux -- particularly those with experience in the business and professional services industries, and the energy sector," Lee said.

Businesses in the East South Central2 states also forecast hiring activity well above the national average. Ten percent of technology executives here expect to add staff and 3 percent anticipate reductions in personnel, resulting in a net 7 percent hiring increase for the region.

Industries Hiring

CIOs in the finance, insurance and real estate sector are the most optimistic of any industry about hiring in the first quarter. Nineteen percent of technology executives expect to add personnel and 4 percent anticipate staff reductions. The net 15 percent increase in hiring is 12 percentage points above the national average for all industries.

Hiring activity is also expected to exceed the national average in the wholesale and retail industries. CIOs in both sectors expect a net 9 percent hiring increase. The construction industry should also see strong technology employment gains, according to the survey, with a net 7 percent hiring increase forecast.

IT Hiring Index Chart: National Figures, 2-Year Comparison

IT Hiring Index Chart: Regional Breakdown

IT Hiring Index Chart: Industry Breakdown

IT Hiring Index Chart: Factors Driving Hiring

IT Hiring Index Chart: Company-Size Breakdown

IT Hiring Index Chart: Skills in Demand

IT Hiring Index Chart: Hottest Jobs

With more than 100 locations in North America and Europe, Robert Half Technology is a leading provider of IT professionals on a project and full-time basis, for initiatives ranging from web development and multiplatform systems integration to network engineering and technical support. For more information about Robert Half Technology or to learn about online job search opportunities, please visit

1 Arkansas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, Texas
2 Alabama, Kentucky, Mississippi, Tennessee

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