Coronavirus crisis

IT hiring trends: What to expect now and in the months to come

Given the uncertainty that the coronavirus is bringing to all facets of our lives, you're probably wondering how it will affect your career. Do layoffs loom? Will certain roles see higher demand? How are companies handling interviewing and on-boarding? Plus, what should you be doing today?

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Coronavirus crisis

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As the coronavirus pandemic creates economic upheaval in every sector and recession concerns loom large, you’re no doubt wondering about the current and future state of IT hiring. Are layoffs on the horizon? Will certain roles and skills see the same or higher demand? How are companies and job-seekers handling interviewing and onboarding?

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According to IT trade organization CompTIA, IT hiring has held steady so far in the face of uncertainty, with the U.S. IT sector adding 7,500 workers in March. However, the industry is bracing for bigger changes to come, including reduced or delayed hiring, or even layoffs, particularly in hard-hit industries such as travel, hotels and restaurants. On the other hand, some of the largest sectors employing IT workers may even see increased demand in some areas, including healthcare, financial services, government and data-driven technologies.

Right now, IT organizations are largely following their overall corporate strategies, says Ola Chowning, partner at global technology research and advisory firm ISG.

“Some are using broad-brush furloughs of non-essential workers, while others are stopping projects and laying off mainly those whose roles are largely discretionary,” she says. In addition, new development may be stopped or delayed, with technology upgrades and updates only continuing where required for operational stability. Temporary salary decreases may also be on the way as companies work to simply survive.

Many companies still want to hire, but with the current uncertainty they have paused or at a minimum slowed down, says Mark Masterson, vice president of talent acquisition and delivery at Yoh, a Philadelphia-based IT talent and outsourcing company. A hidden challenge, he adds, lies with difficulties in doing both criminal and educational background checks, since in many cases there is now no available access to physical records. “That’s significantly delaying hiring if companies are having trouble verifying certain employees,” he says.

Opportunities and challenges in IT hiring

There is no doubt that current economic trends will ultimately impact a variety of IT roles, including developers, testers, engineers, designers and even architects, says Chowning. Managers and leaders will also be impacted, she adds, since they are often seen as either non-essential or filling the roles of their technology workers who may have been released.

Yet there is a stark contrast in hiring across different industries and companies of different sizes, says Vivek Ravisankar, co-founder and CEO of HackerRank, which helps companies like Lyft, PayPal and LinkedIn hire software developers. Technology companies, for example, such as those that develop productivity tools, are “doubling down and hiring developers like crazy,” he says. Other industries, including travel, are heavily impacted, while small to medium-sized businesses are slowing down hiring regardless of industry.

Many traditional, foundational IT supporting functions, as well as those that facilitate work from home, will be in high demand, says Masterson. In addition, in many cases help desk and call center type activities are being brought back to the U.S., because companies in India and other areas are shut down. “It’s a pretty dramatic, almost crisis move for companies to bring this activity back on shore,” he says.

Core digital skills such as cloud, devops and microservices will also be sought after, says Ashwin Bharath, CEO of technology talent development company Revature. Demand for SaaS platform skills will also go up significantly as more companies turn to cloud-native platforms, including Salesforce. Over the long term, he adds, requests for newer skills such as AI and edge computing will significantly accelerate.

Remote work is changing the game

While some companies had already dabbled in remote work prior to COVID-19 shutdowns, now thousands of companies have their entire staff working from home. That is changing the game for many aspects of IT and will require workers who can support the shift: For example, prior to the crisis, enterprises often relied on the security of the physical space and network segregation. But now, with the sudden rise in remote work, IT organizations need to shift their focus and resources from perimeter and network security to endpoint security.  IT departments also have to support more employees that are farther away, as well as create new policies, contingency plans and backup systems for internal communications systems.

“This is creating demand for those that can take on technical and security responsibilities,” says Mike Gruen, CISO and vice president of engineering at Cybrary, a leading online cybersecurity career development platform. “The question is, how quickly can they get someone whose hard drive crashed, is locked out, or unable to access the internet? How can systems be secured and monitored with the rapid increase of sensitive information flowing through them?”

Remote work is also impacting interviewing and onboarding. One challenge for companies is to embrace remote interviews as a completely different process than those in-person, says Bharath. “Someone could be a fantastic, talented programmer who doesn’t understand the best practices for looking professional during a video interview,” he says. 

Hiring and onboarding remotely is also presenting new challenges. Video interviews that include skills tests have always been a concern, with companies worried that candidates could be fed answers, says Masterson. “Some will make candidates move their camera around the room to make sure that isn’t an issue,” he says.

There is also a concern that IT candidates or newly onboarded employees could miss out on early physical interactions with team members, says Ravisankar. “With remote hiring and onboarding, you’re forced to operate in a very structured, focused way,” he says. “For example, rather than having a candidate come on site to interview with four team members, each team member may need to evaluate a specific set of skills remotely. Or, for onboarding, team members are forced to double-down and enhance the internal wiki so information is easily accessible.”

This will continue even after the crisis is over: “It will build in a tremendous amount of discipline in the post-corona world,” he says. “Ultimately, remote hiring will become a very powerful mechanism that offers access to talent globally and will fuel a massive wave of innovation.”

The IT hiring landscape going forward

According to ISG’s Chowning, the entire IT industry may see significant changes based on how rapidly their organizations need to scale and shift work to digital channels. Those that need to scale up rapidly right now, including healthcare, call centers, grocery supply chains, delivery and distribution and some areas of manufacturing are hiring for those needs. “Similarly, companies whose channels of sales, supply chain and delivery were less digital are shifting rapidly to digital, so they have to quickly develop capabilities to take on the increased load,” she says. To stay afloat, companies may be increasing their development work to stay on top of sudden increases in digital channel needs over traditional.

“Many organizations have considered remote work, more capable digital channels and a new way of working in the past,” she explains. “This pandemic crisis is, frankly, forcing their hand.”

Yet, while this may protect many IT workers, not all in the industry can feel secure — the economic effects of COVID-19, after all, are taking a toll on jobs across sectors. In addition, the IT industry took a hit during the 2008 financial crisis as well as the dot-com crash of the early 2000s, when CompTIA data showed the IT unemployment rate reached 6.5%. For companies hiring IT workers, the reality that the COVID-19 crisis will be a longer-term and larger problem has set in, says Bharath.

“No one I have spoken to has been talking about hiring freezes, but they have been exploring cost-cutting,” he says. “Layoffs are also not something that have been talked about yet, though some employees who cannot work from home due to the specific projects they are working on may be furloughed.”

For the rest of 2020, he adds, hiring shifts will become the new normal. “The people at the top and bottom should be fine, but those that make up the middle will be the most impacted,” he says. “Still, there are many opportunities on the way, with foundational and digital skills in high demand in the months to come.”