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Prospects Bright for Web Workers

Confidence, strong demand despite economy

By Margo McCall

While the economic downturn has brought layoffs and uncertainty to many technology sectors, prospects remain bright for Web professionals. In an environment where companies are relying increasingly on their websites to sell products and services, such professionals are reporting no scarcity of work.

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Aquent, a talent agency for design professionals, recently teamed up with the career site Monster to study the market. In their survey of 1,000 Web professionals and 162 employers and recruiters, they were surprised to learn that despite the economic downturn, demand for Web professionals remains strong.

Paul Jamieson, research manager with Monster Intelligence, pointed out that while sales are down at traditional retailers such as Macy’s, Internet retailers such as Amazon are reporting big upticks in profits. And as companies are compensating for lower revenue by reducing costs and headcount, they are looking increasingly to the Web. “While businesses are looking to reduce costs, they are also looking to boost productivity. One of the popular solutions that businesses are looking at these days is the Internet and the Web,” he said.

Ability to find work

The field has become increasingly specialized. In the past, companies hired HTML coders and Web designers to help them carry out their online strategies. Today, companies need designers who understand Web 2.0 fundamentals, and are usability experts capable of designing wireframes and prototypes, and communicating with software engineers.

“We thought the interactive space would hold up pretty well, but we expected some negative points,” said Jason Brownewell, director of Aquent’s Interactive Design Practice. “What really surprised me is how confident and secure the Web professionals are right now. They understand and feel that they’re very much in demand and they are confident in their ability to find work.”

Typically, employees tend to want to hold on to their jobs in a downturn. Yet, 14 percent of the Web professionals surveyed said they were looking to move into another position and 29 percent said they would pursue another opportunity if it became available.

Slightly more men than women work as Web professionals. The majority of those surveyed were in the 35-54 age range. Seventy percent have a decade or more of experience, and 25 percent overall have more than 10 years experience with the Web.

Employers plan continued hiring

Of the employers and recruiters surveyed, 27 percent said they plan to hire Web professionals this year. Twenty-one percent said they weren’t sure of their hiring plans, and only 7 percent said they plan layoffs in this area.

As a measure of the strong demand, 19 percent of Web professionals said they received raises of 10 percent or more last year; 12 percent received raises of at least 5 percent, and 17 percent raises of at least 1 percent. For IT workers overall, salaries last year dropped, according to a number of salary surveys.

A majority of companies that employ Web professionals acknowledged that they are paying more for such talent. And Jamieson and Brownewell said that trend is likely to continue. In fact, they warned that companies that don’t provide adequate compensation will likely find their Web professionals moving on to greener pastures.

Training support is essential

While the expectations of employers and employees were aligned when it came to pay and benefits, the survey uncovered gaps when it came to training and flexible hours. Because the field is changing so rapidly, training and certification are extremely important for Web professionals. Companies that reimburse their Web team for training, or offer training in the workplace, will be at an advantage in attracting and retaining talent, the survey backers said.

A majority of Web professionals surveyed said they were confident they could find work. But in a field where contract and temporary work is the norm, 90 percent of Web professionals said they were looking for permanent positions. Again, companies that offer permanent positions will be in a better position to retain talent, the survey backers stressed.

Need for career paths

Web professionals are also fairly ambitious. Brownewell said companies can tap into that by offering training and career paths within an organization. “Despite the struggling economy right now, the Web professionals right now are feeling pretty confident about their ability to find work, even if it’s contract work,” said Brownewell. “Organizations are looking to them and the Web to help them survive in this difficult economy.”

Brownewell said companies are taking advantage of the relative scarcity and are going after top talent. If companies take this approach, he recommends hiring individuals with soft skills such as mentoring and leadership so they can transmit their knowledge to junior talent.

“Now is not the time for employers to be complacent and think that just because they’re providing job security for employees then everything is OK,” he said. “Organizations should be taking care of top talent.” CW (26 February, 2009)

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