The tech nerds rule. Again.

The demand for IT professionals is as hot as it was in the late 1990s, an era fueled by the then-emerging internet, the “dot-com” bubble and preparation for the “Y2K” digital conversion.

That boom imploded into the 2001-2002 bust, accelerated by the failure of thousands of internet startups, the runoff of human and financial resources after business successfully upgraded computer systems for the year 2000, and the 2001-02 recession.

The buildup this time around has been slower, along with an eight-year economic recovery. And it has a more durable feel to it as technology, cloud computing and Web-based businesses are fully integrated into everyday activities and must be routinely upgraded to stay competitive.

At the Minnesota High Tech Association’s annual “venture” conference last week, executives of some of the Twin Cities’ technology growth companies, including Code42, HelpSystems, Leadpages and Calabrio talked about the struggle for talent.

That also goes for other companies that need to do business every day on their websites and in the “cloud.”

“It’s a great market, a candidate’s market,” said Jim Kwapick, a Robert Half regional director based in Minneapolis.

Twin Cities IT contractors can get $70 to $120 per hour, or take salaried jobs with tech-hungry employers or software firms that pay $100,000 to $130,000 per year.

Pay is rising on average by about 5 percent annually, better than most other professions, and employers are adding benefits, including work-from-home opportunities to attract and retain good workers, said Kathy Northamer, another local Robert Half executive in charge of IT placement.

Robert Half, the national recruiter that provides IT, accounting and finance contractors, and also recruits and places employees, recently released its annual salary survey.

Many of these IT job titles didn’t exist 20 years ago. Now, many companies can’t do without them.

The highest-demand positions for experienced professionals and their median base pay includes software engineers ($129,470), project managers for applications development ($117,700), network security administrators ($116,897), cloud computing analysts ($98,975), business system analysts ($98,440), front-end web developers ($77,842) and desktop support analysts ($64,200).

“We have significant, strong, consecutive-year growth tied to technology,” Northamer said. “Companies want to get better stronger faster in technology or they lose competitive market share. If a website is not easy to use … you just go to the next one.”

A Robert Half survey of employers found that demand for technology workers exceeds the supply.

Meanwhile, more than two-thirds of job candidates are getting multiple offers.

And those who win the best posts and get the highest pay in cutting-edge areas of cloud computing, open source and big data storage, are those who demonstrate strong interpersonal skills like listening and teamwork.

Somebody has to explain to us Luddites what we need to know.

“There were 37 new categories of employment or job titles in the Robert Half salary survey,” Kwapick said. “We attribute that to change and emerging functions. There’s macro change occurring, driven by the digitalization of everything going to the cloud, and how people buy and do things.”

That’s more data analysis, predictive analysis and using data to develop artificial intelligence, Northamer said.

Ironically, the technology boom also has made it tough on traditional recruiters.

Robert Half, the granddaddy of IT and finance placement, has reported lower earnings so far this year compared to 2016.

Big competitors have moved into the Twin Cities market in recent years, such as Europe’s Randstad, a global HR services company. And local boutique agencies have flourished.

“We’ve had good years since 2009 and this will be a good year,” said Brad Arthur, founder of True Source IT consulting and placement, which has 11 employees and 55 contractors. “There are more jobs than qualified people to fill the jobs in today’s ‘technology stack’ … what companies use in [software] languages, platforms and cloud computing.

“And it’s getting tougher to hire foreign workers and the H1-B visa program that has gotten more restrictive. This won’t be my best year. But we’ll finish strong.”

 

Neal St. Anthony has been a Star Tribune business columnist and reporter since 1984. He can be contacted at nstanthony@startribune.com.