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CIOs expect moderate hiring, study says

IT job growth will be driven primarily by the nation's largest employers, according to new data.

Chief information officers in the United States are still taking a "measured approach to hiring," according to a report released Thursday by staffing company Robert Half Technology.

Nine percent of CIOs polled plan to expand their IT departments during the fourth quarter, and another 3 percent anticipate staff reductions, the company said. The net 6 percent gain in hiring plans is up one percentage point from Robert Half's third-quarter forecast and up one point from hiring projections the company made at this time last year.

The poll garnered responses from more than 1,400 CIOs at U.S. companies with 100 or more employees.

"Many companies are beginning to staff up again, after cutting budgets deeply during the recession," Katherine Spencer Lee, executive director of Robert Half, said in a statement. "However, firms are being cautious and selective, hiring only those IT professionals who are essential to their long-term needs and who meet all of their job requirements. Organizations also are bringing in technology talent on a project basis to help immediately address rising workloads and support new initiatives."

The report comes amid conflicting signs about the job situation for technology professionals, who have been struggling to recover from major job cuts in recent years and who also face the threat of offshore outsourcing.

Unemployment rates have dropped for techies, but so have the numbers of people employed in tech occupations--suggesting that some workers may be leaving the field, possibly because they're discouraged. A separate study from staffing company Hudson Highland Group recently found that IT workers have growing confidence in the job market.

According to the Robert Half report, IT hiring activity will be driven primarily by the nation's largest employers. "Larger companies often have the financial resources to proactively add staff in preparation for an economic rebound," Lee said.

A net 12 percent of CIOs at businesses with 1,000 or more employees expect to expand their IT departments in the fourth quarter. Meanwhile, a net 9 percent of executives at companies with 500 to 999 employees project a staff increase.

According to Robert Half, the business services sector leads all industries in anticipated employment growth for the second consecutive quarter. Also for the second consecutive quarter, the region of the country anticipating the most active IT hiring is the "West North Central" area--which consists of Iowa, Kansas, Minneapolis, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota and South Dakota.

Asked which technical skill sets were in shortest supply in their IT departments, 80 percent of CIOs reported a need for Microsoft Windows administration, the report said. Cisco Systems network administration and Check Point Software Technologies firewall administration were the second-most-popular skill sets, each with 51 percent of the response. SQL Server management was cited by 48 percent of executives, according to the report. Survey respondents were allowed to give multiple answers.

Asked which specialties were experiencing the most growth within their IT departments, networking was the top choice, cited by 19 percent of executives. Information security and applications development each received 12 percent of the response, the company said.