IT staff may be losing jobs by the thousand, but employers and industry groups says skills shortages are as strong as ever.
The gap across the region is particularly sharp in Australia, where the Australian Computer Society (ACS) says shortages exist "across the board" and predicts 14,000 vacancies by 2010.
Hong Kong and Singapore businesses are seeking business analysis and security skills as well as in areas attracting fresh investment such as new media and unified communications.
The continuing demand for key IT skillsets flies in the face of the huge contraction in the regional jobs market.
The number of Australian ICT job ads grew 1.4% in February after falling by 16.7% in January, according to the Olivier Job Index. Advertisements are down 47% year on year.
In Hong Kong, IT job ads fell 37.6% in the fourth quarter, compared with a 34.3% fall overall, according to recruitment firm Robert Walters. Singapore IT ads were down 35.9% compared with a 40.7% decline across all sectors. Ads in China and Japan contracted 20.1% and 27.1% respectively.
ACS chairman Kumar Parakala said despite the slump, Australian IT skill gaps had opened up in "health informatics, mining, business systems integration, ICT project development, business support, business analysts and games development.
"ICT skills shortages will grow by 29% by the year 2010 to just over 14,000 jobs unless we make changes to policy on ICT employment and skills," he said.
The gap, which he predicted would increase to 25,000 jobs by 2020, was a result of a lack of investment in training by employers, low numbers of students and in particular women, and the emigration of IT professionals to higher-paying jobs abroad.
Australia's Department of Immigration is reportedly having trouble finding employees with SAP, Siebel, network security and Java skills.
Agnes Mak, former CIO of Hong Kong cellco Sunday, who is now Director of The Hong Kong Institute for IT Professional Certification, says the territory faces a chronic shortage of business analysts and information security experts.
"It is easy to find a techie, but it is not easy to find a good business analyst who can understand the business," she said. "They act as a bridge between the users and the IT group, and are especially sought-after in big IT organizations."
She said businesses were seeking both high-level and operational level security specialists. "Previously only senior experts were in demand, but now organizations see that the mindset should go from top to bottom."
Peter Ritchie, managing director of the MRI Group in Hong Kong, said he was seeing requests for web developers with new media skills, in telco IPTV, and in risk and compliance.
Axer Goh, senior consultant at Robert Walters' IT contract division, said that after cutting costs, Singapore companies "see the need to increase or maintain productivity and efficiency levels to stay competitive," he said.
"There are also large critical projects which companies have already invested heavily on and they see the need to push through the projects even during tough times."
"We still see a demand for strong project or program management skills and candidates with service delivery experience, especially for those with professional certifications, like ITIL."
She said companies were now investing more in unified communications "to make the organization more connected globally" and to cut travel costs. As a result he expected an increase in demand for "candidates with UC delivery experience."