Although the IT jobs market continues to outperform U.S. employment by far, IT career experts choose their adjectives carefully when discussing the tech hiring picture.
The number of new jobs in IT has grown steadily for several quarters now—with shortages of skilled workers in some fields—yet the language of guarded optimism has been prevalent.
"Good but not great" were the words Tom Silver, senior vice president at Dice.com, used to describe the results of the career and employment site's latest hiring survey released June 10.
Dice found that 73 percent of the hiring managers and recruiters polled said they anticipate that they or their clients would hire more IT professionals in the next six months. That figure—which includes 54 percent who foresee slightly more hiring in the second half and 19 percent who expect substantially more hiring—is similar to results from about a year ago regarding hiring predictions for the last half of 2012.
The latest data "confirms what we know about the market for tech pros and what we have been hearing from our customers," said Silver—who a year ago referred to the IT jobs picture as "the best house in a not great neighborhood," a comparison that he said still applies, in part because of IT's consistently low unemployment rate.
Silver pointed to U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data showing that the unemployment rate for tech professionals was 3.5 percent in May, in sharp contrast to the 7.6 percent unemployment rate for the nation overall.
Bob Miano, president and CEO of executive search and recruitment firm Harvey Nash USA, stops short of calling the IT hiring picture "robust."
"I don't think IT jobs will skyrocket," Miano said. "We would have to have 5, 6, 7 percent GDP growth for that. I do see a steady increase [in IT jobs], and I am optimistic about the second half."
When Dice asked respondents if the current economic environment caused them or their clients to change second-half hiring plans, 31 percent said they increased hiring plans—25 percent slightly and 6 percent substantially. Nearly four in 10 respondents expect no change, while 22 percent see a decrease.
Confidence in the overall economy—from both employers' and employees' vantage points—is telling.
Concerns over macroeconomic factors such as sequestration (the federal tax increases and spending cuts that took effect March 1), the Affordable Care Act and higher gas prices affected IT employee perceptions in the first quarter, said Taz Stephens, regional managing director for staffing specialist Randstad Technologies.
Technology employees were far less confident in the first quarter of this year, compared with the fourth quarter of 2012, according to the IT Employee Confidence Index, which is based on a survey conducted by Harris Interactive for Randstad Technologies. The Index fell to 48.6 in the first quarter, after being comfortably above 50 for each of the four quarters last year. (A reading of 50 or higher delineates a confident workforce.)
The Randstad study, released June 3, found that 38 percent of IT workers reported feeling confident in their ability to find a new job, in contrast to 55 percent in the previous quarter. More than half the respondents (55 percent) believe that fewer IT jobs are now available, according to the Randstad study.
Sequestration has injected uncertainty into the IT job outlook, Dice's Silver said. "Over the next 6 to 12 months, it's probably the biggest thing that could have an impact on IT hiring. We're starting to hear about its impact on government spending and government hiring."
Ironically, demand for some IT skills outweighs supply. Hiring managers have cited talent shortages in mobile, big data and security applications and for developers with Java, .NET and C++ skills.
"Mobile, cloud, big data and security are still relatively new for some companies, and employers are playing catch-up in their hiring plans," Dice's Silver said.
IT professionals are testing the market, according to Dice, with a third of corporate hiring managers saying voluntary departures have increased at their firms this year. The study also found that 32 percent said more candidates are turning down job offers than they were six months ago.
Randstad's data from the first quarter also showed the number of job hunters rose: 46 percent of IT workers said they are likely to hunt for jobs, up 13 percentage points from the previous quarter's tally.
"As more IT workers open themselves up to the increase in IT jobs in the market, they will see more demand for their skills," and have more confidence in the IT jobs market, Randstad's Stephens said.