As they look toward the new year, CIOs seem to see the light at the end of a very long tunnel. According to the first-quarter “Robert Half Technology IT Hiring Index and Skills Report,” 7% of technology executives across a variety of vertical industries anticipate adding IT staff in the first quarter of 2010, and only 4% plan workforce reductions. The net 3% increase is up three points from last quarter's forecast. Eighty-nine percent of CIOs plan to maintain current IT personnel levels.

The “IT Hiring Index and Skills Report” is based on telephone interviews with more than 1,400 CIOs from companies across the United States 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

• The net 3% increase in hiring activity is the strongest forecast since the first quarter of 2009
• Forty-two percent of CIOs are confident their companies will invest in IT projects in the first quarter of 2010
• CIOs in the East North Central and South Atlantic regions expect the greatest hiring activity
• Companies of all sizes foresee personnel gains in IT
• The wholesale, retail and health services sectors forecast employment growth above the national average

"After months of slow hiring activity, managers are beginning the year with new budgets and appear ready to carefully expand their IT departments," said Dave Willmer, executive director of Robert Half Technology. "Many firms are investing in technologies that improve efficiency and competitiveness, and there has been demand for additional professionals to implement these projects. The health services sector, for instance, needs IT talent to manage the conversion to electronic medical records."

When asked to rate how confident they are in their company's likelihood to invest in IT projects in the first quarter on a scale of one to five (one being least confident and five being most confident), 42% of CIOs gave confident responses of four or five. Of that group, 23% rated their confidence level a five.

Among companies planning to add technology professionals in the first quarter, 58% said they will recruit full-time employees. Twenty-eight percent plan to bring in a mix of full-time and contract or project workers, up from 9% last quarter.

Forty-one percent of CIOs said they expect to hire entry-level employees (up to two years of experience), while 40% said they are focused on staff-level talent (between two and five years of experience). Twenty percent of technology executives will concentrate hiring at the senior-staff level (five or more years of experience). (Editor’s note: CIOs were allowed multiple responses.)

Technology executives noted that it's most challenging to find skilled IT professionals in networking, with 19% of the response. Thirteen percent of CIOs cited security, followed by applications development at 10%.

When asked which technical skill sets are most in demand in their IT departments, 70% of CIOs said network administration. Desktop support had 66% of the response, and Windows administration came in third at 62%. (See editor’s note above.)

The East North Central and South Atlantic states will see notable hiring activity in the first quarter, according to the survey. CIOs in each region anticipate a net hiring increase of 8%, five points above the national average.

CIOs in both regions cited rising workloads as the primary reason for adding staff. Executives in the East North Central states noted a particular need for network administration and desktop support skills, while those in the South Atlantic region seek applications, Web and database developers to make product enhancements, as well as professionals skilled in help desk and business intelligence.

CIOs in the West North Central and East South Central states also anticipate IT employment growth above the national average. Technology executives in both regions forecast a net 4% increase in hiring activity.

Within the professional services sector, the health services industry stands out in hiring expectations. Sixteen percent of health services CIOs plan to expand their IT departments and 3% expect personnel cutbacks. More than half (55%) of technology executives in health services organizations are confident their firms will invest in IT projects in the first quarter of 2010. Twenty-two percent of CIOs attribute the need to add more staff to the installation or development of enterprisewide applications.

The wholesale industry expects strong IT hiring activity in the first three months of the year. Twenty percent of CIOs plan to add employees and 4% project staff reductions. The net 16% hiring increase is 13 points above the national average. Retail executives also foresee hiring gains above the national average, with 10% anticipating adding employees and 2% projecting staff reductions, for a net hiring increase of 8%. CIOs in both industries cited an increased need for customer/end user support.

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