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The Hottest IT Skills And Salaries

  • IT professionals don't have it easy, but the march of technology is making them more important than ever. And those who master skills in high demand can reap respectable salaries, according to the latest annual survey from Global Knowledge. It comes as little surprise the IT skills most prized by hiring managers today were in information security. But infrastructure professionals, take heart. Rounding out the top five areas most in demand were network engineering, systems engineering, IT architecture and network operations.

    The average salary of all respondents came in at $89,891. Although overall salary growth was flat compared to Global Knowledge's 2013 report, other measures showed marked improvement. The percentage of respondents reporting a raise reached 75%, up nearly 20 percentage points in the last 5 years. And a record 63% had received a bonus.

    Perhaps more than in any other industry, progress and higher salaries in IT are linked to ongoing professional development. This was clear from survey results, which revealed that 77% respondents participated in professional training in the year prior. Those in security led the pack, with a staggering 90% engaging in some form of professional development. 

    Of course, making more money is not the only reason for training or improving skills. In fact, survey respondents ranked increased salary as number 11 out of 15 possible benefits of training. The top choices were staying up to date on technological changes, developing skills that will be useful for future positions, and simply gaining insight in order to do a more effective job. Certifications were the main form of career development, and 70% of those who trained for a certification or sent their team members to training noticed an improvement in on-the-job performance.

    Global Knowledge and Windows IT Pro fielded the survey late in 2014, publishing the 2015 IT Skills & Salary Report based on the 11,000 IT professionals and executives in North America who responded. Of the respondents, 17% classified themselves as entry level, 46% as mid-level, 35% at senior level, and 2% as executives. Nearly half said they worked in the areas of network engineering, system operations, systems engineering, IT security, or help desk.

    Read on to find out what survey respondents had to say about specific skills and certifications, as well as their effects on salary.

    Image: Sohel Parvez Haque/iStockphoto

  • Security & architecture on top

    Investment in IT and business projects has been steady or increasing over the last three years, according to Global Knowledge's research. This year showed a good jump in new projects being given the green light, with 50% of IT pros reporting a moderate increase and 19% a significant increase (over 41% at moderate and 15% significant last year). However, only 25% said they feel that "business is good" or business conditions are significantly improving for their organizations.

    Not surprisingly, the most popular new projects -- by a long shot -- were security related, with more than half of respondents reporting security initiatives. Improvements in network operations, cloud computing, and IT architecture were also high on the list. The least popular areas of new investment were Java development and SAP.

  • Expertise & salary

    The IT silos are breaking down, and Global Knowledge found that those in the areas of big-picture planning were paid a premium for their broad perspective. IT pros working in IT architecture, business technology and cloud computing topped the list, with mean salaries above $100,000. Security also raised its head, coming in fourth.

    The report also compiled pay according to experience, totaling the average salary for entry-level IT staff at $61,724, mid-level professionals at $81,141, and senior-level roles at $108,000.

  • Hot skills

    Survey respondents were asked to identify specific skills affecting their compensation, and it's clear that security and networking are in high demand. IT security skills benefitted respondents across experience levels, while skills like network engineering and network operations had a bigger impact on those with fewer years in IT. Business and leadership skills also ranked high, but were far more important to those in senior positions.

  • Highest paying industries

    When salaries were evaluated by industry, Global Knowledge found that those focused on technology paid their technical employees the highest on average: systems integrators made just over $104,000, and IT consultants made $98,400. In industries that are not traditionally focused on IT, the energy industry IT paycheck was the biggest on average (at $98,000), followed by finance, consumer manufacturing, and aerospace. At the IT staff level, those working in energy made the most; at the senior level, the highest paid were in systems integration.

    On the lower end of the scale, IT professionals in the education industry were compensated the least at 77,000 on average. The next lowest salaries were in nonprofits and retail, at $81,000 and $82,000 respectively.

    Global Knowledge also found that the size of a company made a significant difference in pay rate. The salaries of those working in companies with fewer than 100 employees was $15,548 lower on average than in companies with greater than 100 employees.

  • Certs make sense

    Staying up to date on technology and developing new skills are crucial in IT, and certifications are a common form of professional development. In the Global Knowledge survey, three out of four respondents said they earned at least one certification in the last five years, and 27% reported planned to pursue a certification in the coming year.

    The most common types of certifications were those awarded by CompTIA; 38% of respondents reported holding one or more cert from the association. However, this translated to the lowest salary range, since CompTIA certifications tend to be foundational in nature. Rounding out the top five most popular categories -- with more than 1000 holders -- were Microsoft, security, Cisco and ITIL/ITSM related certifications.

  • Highest paying certifications

    In alignment with top projects and industry concerns, security certifications topped the list of the highest paying. The three certifications bringing in average paychecks of more than $110,000 -- the CRISC, CISM, and CSSP -- are offered by independent security organizations ISACA and (ISC)2. Security is a top area for talent recruitment, and salaries reflected that, ranging from $79,700 for those holding a Security+ to more than $119,000 for security pros with the CRISC.

    Cisco certifications were popular among survey respondents. Nearly 1,400 IT pros reported holding at least one Cisco certification, with an average of two. Average salaries started at $70,700 for the entry-level CCEN to more than $118,000 for the CCIE in Routing and Switching. Although the CCIE did not make the official list of highest paying certs because the sample size in this survey was too small, the CCDA is growing in popularity and made a strong showing at number 6, with a mean salary of almost $100,000.

  • Factors behind the skills gap

    Is there a shortage of IT skills? According to the Global Knowledge survey, yes. When asked about the skills of their IT teams, 36% of managers reported measurable gaps in technical skill sets, and another third reported that, while skills may be adequate for the moment, they have concerns over the next two years. Only 32% said that their IT groups have the skills needed for today and for the next 12 to 24 months. Those reporting a skills deficit said the gaps result in issues such as increased employee stress levels, difficulty meeting quality objectives, delayed hardware and software deployments, and delays in new product or service development.

    Clearly the fast-changing nature of technology is a challenge, but how businesses handle that is contributing to the problem. While more than 60% of managers said their companies provide training for technology workers, half reported that training investments have not been enough to keep pace with increasing demands. A smaller percentage, at 37%, said their training programs have not been effective at developing the skills that are needed. At the top of the list of skills most in demand was IT security, followed by network engineering, systems engineering, IT architecture and network operations.