Silver Linings in a Discouraging Salary Report

Silver Linings in a Discouraging Salary ReportEach year around this time, my in-box dings with the arrival of the TechRepublic/Global Knowledge IT Skills And Salary Report. I like this survey because it’s very comprehensive (more than 12,000 respondents) and tries to answer questions about skills and salaries from a variety of angles, including certified versus non-certified and geographical location. (You can download the PDF and read all 22 pages yourself. Free registration is required.)

The big picture:

This year’s survey reflects the fact that the global economy is seeing uneven job growth and recovery, as the average salary of the IT professionals we surveyed was $79,579–down 3.2 percent from our 2010 survey ($82,115). At the same time, most of the different types of benefits–from PTO to health insurance to 401(k)–were also down a few percentage points from 2010. However, it’s also important to keep these decreases in perspective. The average salary is still up 8 percent from our 2008 survey ($73,900). In terms of benefits, many of those (especially health care) took a jump in 2010, so they may just be settling down a little bit from those leaps.

It sounds like things are trending in the wrong direction. But you already knew that, didn’t you?

After reading last year’s report, I wrote, “If you’re a project manager with a PMP certification who happens to live in or around Washington, D.C., and who works in bio-med, then it’s game over, and you’re the winner. Congratulations! You’re thriving in troubled times.”

And guess what? Nothing’s changed. It’s the same this year. There’s relative salary strength in the mid-Atlantic region, and project management is still the leading occupation. There’s something to be said for the largess of the federal government when it comes to technology spending.

And what about training? This year’s analysis of certification finds that nearly 60 percent of respondents believe their certification pursuits will impact their base salary, and those who train for certification do show a higher average salary ($79,352 vs. $75,256), a difference of 5.4 percent, which is slightly lower than last year. The top five certifications among survey respondents this year were CCNA, PMP, MCSE, ITIL v3 Foundation, and CompTIA Security+. CompTIA was new to the top five this year, while MCP dropped off.

Which industries tend to yield the highest average salaries? Pharmaceutical/bio-medical research ($96,421); aerospace ($93,066); mining, oil, and gas ($88,835); IT consulting ($88,077); and systems integration ($86,941). Note, however, that average salaries vary widely by location. So while it may be great to work in mining, you may want to do it somewhere other than Nevada, which has the lowest average tech salaries of any state, according to the survey.

As always, the report tries to put a positive spin on its overall findings, even in the face of discouraging evidence. “Despite the shadow of slow economic times, there remains a sense of optimism among IT and business professionals. The majority of survey respondents believe their personal economic conditions and those facing their companies will improve in 2011.” Perhaps the big takeaway is that the people most likely to express that optimism are the same ones who have committed to constant retraining and improvement of their skills.

In the end, these macroscopic stats may not matter as much to you as your own salary compared to the person sitting next to you and that of your boss. Still, trends are trends and there are lessons to be learned from how things seem to be going across the board. Once again it’s time to tally up your skills and see what they’re worth in the ever-changing IT marketplace.