Things definitely slow down when the warm weather comes. Yet summer is when CIOs and IT managers plan their budgets for the new year. Many of you will be hiring in the fall, albeit cautiously. In this column, I’ll check out the marketplace to get an overview of the hot and cold sectors and learn what skills your management peers believe will be most in demand.

Are you sitting down?
The bad news is there are more depressed and iffy job sectors than hot ones. Topping the list in the depressed category are the dot coms that continue to perish or lay off staff. Some strong survivors persist (eBay, Expedia, Travelocity,, and Amazon), but only half of all dot coms are still in business, according to a study by Internet news magazine The Industry Standard.

Telecom companies, as I said in a prior column, are in the doghouse and show little promise of getting out. The industry has already laid off thousands, and more layoffs are expected. Recovery is expected in one to four years, depending upon which analyst you believe.

The outlook for the semiconductor industry is similarly grim. The sector suffers from excess inventory and disappointing sales. Computer chip sales fell short of growth projections. Revised projections are based on low prices and erratic demand for computers and other electronic devices.

Generally, the job picture in the wireless industry is nothing to get excited about either. The industry doesn’t lack innovation, but it does lack direction, coherence, and jobs. Clark Dong, CEO of hereUare, a San Jose, CA, company that enables public wireless LANs, says Wireless Application Protocol (WAP) is dead, and no unified standard exists to link equipment makers and carriers. The industry may be fragmented, but Dong says he’s always looking for experienced architect types to put up Java platforms.

Now, for the good news
On the positive side, engineers, for the most part, are in good shape. Demand is hottest for computer and electrical engineers, according to W. Arthur Porter, dean of the engineering college at the University of Oklahoma in Norman. Right behind them is a strong demand for mechanical, petroleum, industrial, and environmental engineers.

The emerging biotechnology industry is constantly looking for process-development engineers and validation technical engineers. The hottest biotech area is the relatively new bioinformatics, which uses computer technology to manage biological information. But finding bioinformatic specialists is a frustrating quest because of its rigorous requirements. Beyond advanced degrees, you need a working understanding of structural biology, computational chemistry, and mathematics. On the technical side, skills needed include knowledge of UNIX, relational databases, and Structured Query Language (SQL). Now you know why biotech companies would all but kill for these superskilled biotechies.

In both good and bad times, companies are looking for security people to secure Web sites and keep the crackers at bay. “Security and privacy are hot issues,” says Nancy Levine, vice president of client services at The Pacific Firm, an executive search firm specializing in technology in Berkeley, CA. Major computer networks continue to be broken into with scary regularity. “Midsize and large companies especially, and federal and state agencies are always looking for these specialists,” she says.

Technical support people are always in demand, as are technical salespeople. The perfect candidate is a techie-turned-salesperson. But they’re also difficult to find, according to recruiters. It’s practically a recession-free job, because talented salespeople are as important as strong technical people.

As for hot skills, Foote Partners in New Canaan, CT, lists them in three sectors:

  • Networking and Internetworking
  • Web/e-commerce development
  • Enterprise applications

In networking, the high-demand skills are TCP/IP, Ethernet, VoIP, APPC, IPX, SNA, and SMTP. In Web/e-commerce, companies are looking for expertise in Perl, CGI, Java Server Pages, Active Server Pages, HTML, XHTML, XML, VoiceXML, scripting languages (VBScript, JavaScript, JScript), Java, JavaBeans, Cold Fusion, PHP, and Web Servers/Administration. In enterprise applications, the necessary skill set is Oracle, DB2, System Adaptive Server, Microsoft SQL Server, Visual SQL, Dbase/Xbase, and Microsoft Access.

Of course, it’s impossible to cover all of the hot and cold career areas in the space of a single column, so consider this information as a sort of snapshot of what the economy and job landscape look like right now. It’s always possible that the economy could surprise us and turn around quickly. But even in a sluggish economy, managers need to recruit talent and techies need to find new jobs. The trick is in matching the two parties up efficiently.

How are your staffing needs shaping up?

Are you planning new hires? Which skills are rare in your sector? Talk it over with other TechRepublic members by posting a comment below.