Tech Industry

Upping the bid for IS employees

As the demand for system administrators and security professionals grows, companies are doing more to hire and retain these highly skilled specialists.

The babble of an auctioneer--going once, going twice--may be resounding in the ears of some computer industry employers as they struggle to staff their systems management departments while facing a shrinking pool of qualified candidates.

As the demand for system administrators and security professionals grows, companies are forced to shell out more cash in order to hire and retain these highly skilled computer specialists. According to the CIO Institute's 1997 System Administration and Security Salary Survey, released last week, salaries in the already well-compensated field are climbing.

CIO surveyed 1,599 system administrators and security professionals, the managers and protectors of the computers used in e-commerce, Web servers, advanced scientific research, and enterprise systems management that often are collectively referred to as IS (information systems) professionals. Currently, 42 percent of such workers earn salaries of between $40,000 and $60,000 annually, with another 42 percent earning more than $60,000, according to the survey. The average salary of the systems managers surveyed was $57,346.

All those surveyed received at least a 10 percent salary increase over what they earned during the previous year, with employees earning between $70,000 and $79,999 receiving the highest increase--21 percent. Those paid $90,000 to $99,000 garnered salary increases of 17 percent, and systems managers earning more than $100,000 took home 16 percent more than they did last year. The average salary increase of those surveyed was 14 percent.

"The substantially higher percentage increases in the high salary categories (above $70,000) reflects fear that senior people will not be able to be replaced if they are lost," the survey stated.

Though the increased demand and pay for this high-tech niche may serve as a significant draw in attracting people to IS, the survey stated that the shortage of skilled systems managers is fueled by a lack of formal university training programs. In fact, having a college degree didn't significantly affect the salaries of men in the field, and their female counterparts with higher-level degrees earned only slightly more than the average salary for women without a college degree of $48,039.

While the worldwide survey results showed IS salaries surging in the United States, Canada, Europe, and Asia, the highest increases in pay were in the New York/Boston and San Francisco/San Jose areas, where such employees are concentrated. Thirty-nine percent of the employees surveyed worldwide worked in either California or the Northeast.

Alan Paller, CIO's director of research and education, said two trends have accelerated during the past two years, contributing to the shortage of IS employees. A large increase in the number of Web servers, combined with an increase in the number of companies moving enterprise applications to Unix and NT, has created the need for more systems managers, he said.

Senior systems administrators and security professionals suggested in their responses to CIO's survey that companies striving to retain valued systems managers should provide updated technology, training, career prospects, continued education, compensation for long hours, and competitive salaries.

The CIO Institute is a not-for-profit research and recognition organization that funds ongoing research about the challenges facing CIOs, or chief information officers.