If there were any doubts remaining about the importance of skilled IT professionals to business, the 2015 IT Skills and Salary Report should put them to rest. IT decision makers who responded to the survey said skills gaps are taking a toll on their organizations, and IT pros who can effectively fill these gaps may find that they have a good amount of leverage in terms of career and salary growth.

The 2015 IT Skills and Salary Survey was conducted online from Sept. 15 to Oct. 24, 2014. More than half a million survey invitations were sent to recipients from the databases of Global Knowledge, Windows IT Pro, and partner companies and organizations. More than 16,300 responses worldwide were returned, with 68 percent coming from the United States and Canada. This year’s survey is the eighth annual for Global Knowledge and the third in partnership with Windows IT Pro.

This year’s survey was broadened to include the perspective of IT decision makers (ITDMs), who provided insight into key considerations including budget trends and cloud computing adoption.

The ITDMs also elaborated on the impact that skills gaps are having on their organizations. In short, the impact is significant, and, as you might expect, not in a good way.

In this story we outline the survey and its highlights; we will follow up with stories that drill down into specific topic areas.

A Widening Skills Gap

More than one-third of respondents reported measurable gaps in their IT groups’ skill sets. The biggest deficits were in the areas of IT security, but network and systems engineering, IT architecture and network operations are also areas that are falling short for many respondents’ organizations. When it comes to the cloud, fully one in five ITDMs said they are having difficulty in finding skilled professionals to do the cloud jobs at hand.

How is this manifesting at organizations and with their customers? Respondents noted increased stress among existing employees, difficulty meeting quality assurance objectives, deliverability issues, and delays in new product and service development.

In other words, business don’t mean a thing if it don’t have that IT swing.

IT Skills: A Matter of Supply and Demand

When it comes to salaries, it would appear that employers are paying a premium for at least some of the skill sets in highest demand. Perhaps not surprisingly, IT architecture, cloud computing and IT security topped average salaries by functional area (at $108,201, $101,957 and $101,539, respectively). Also in the top five: business technology ($101,964) and project/program management ($99,489).

At the low end of average salaries by functional area were system operations ($76,711) network operations ($74,313) and help desk ($58,420).

Looking at salaries from previous years, overall salary growth remains flat. However, other measures are showing improvement. For example 75 percent of respondents reported receiving a raise. This is the highest percentage since the year the study started. In addition, 63 percent of respondents reported receiving a bonus, the highest percentage ever reported.

It should be noted that there is significant variation in roles within functional areas—or, in other words, an IT security job isn’t an IT security job isn’t an IT security job. Security administrators make an average of $70,437, while VPs/directors of security make $134,085. A business application developer, meanwhile, makes an average of $77,122, while a vice president of corporate applications makes an average of $138,116. The gap between the lowest and highest levels in the systems operations area was smallest, at about $30,000.

Of course, industry and company size, among other factors, also play a big role in determining salary.

When looking at average salary for total IT, the systems integration industry pays the highest ($104,187) and the education services industry pays the lowest ($76,515). And, as you might expect, larger companies pay higher total IT salaries than smaller companies. Interestingly, though, differences are not very big. For example, companies with less than 100 employees reported paying IT staff an average of $65,382, while companies with more than 1,000 employees reported paying $$80,930—a difference of $15,548. Companies with less than 100 employees paid their ITDMs an average of $7,221 less then companies with more than 1,000 employees.

Stepping Things Up   

So, what do you need to do to increase your salary? In short, boost your skill set. But not just any skills: According to responses to the survey, gaining skills in the areas of IT security, leadership and professional skills, network operations and IT architecture is key to professional and salary growth. (And, not for nothing, these skills align pretty closely with the areas respondents said are lacking in their organizations.)

More than three-quarters of the respondents to our survey, excluding decision makers, said they had taken some form of professional development in the prior year. This training ranged from the informal use of books and DVDs, all the way to structured classroom or online training.

And increased salary isn’t the only benefit to training and professional development, according to IT-focused respondents. The following were the top five perceived benefits they named:

  • Stay up to date with technological changes
  • Develop skills that will be useful for future positions
  • Gain insight to be more effective in my current ride.
  • Gain from the knowledge of others
  • Develop a sense of personal accomplishment

The training focus by tenure (the number of years a person has been in his or her career) is always highest in the area of IT training, but that percentage gradually decreases the longer a person has been at the IT game. The focus on leadership and professional skills is always second-highest, but that percentage gradually increases (although not by much) the more years a person has put in.

After years of economic uncertainly, the tide appears to be turning. Based on the survey data, we’re certainly not looking at boom times right now, but it seems like the era of doing way more with way less—while keeping your head down lest you be noticed and laid off—is over (at least for now). Salaries overall are flat, but more and more people are seeing raises, and the number of people leveraging professional development to improve their lot in IT life is significant.

Download the full 2015 IT Skills & Salary report below, and look for more reports based on the data. Topics will include reasons behind the skills shortage, the most popular types of certifications (and which had the biggest impact on salary) and respondents’ plans for the future. We also invite you to weigh in on our poll: When was the last time you received a salary increase?