IT pros have a rare opportunity to push for better working conditions

Remote working
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With working from home back on the agenda it's time to stress the importance of IT professionals, says Jason Walsh

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17 November 2021 | 0

Taoiseach Michéal Martin’s latest statement about the pandemic will have some interesting effects on the world of work. Following a meeting with the National Public Health Emergency Team and a long cabinet meeting, the government is expected, at the time of writing, to ask businesses to facilitate a return to remote working, in order to arrest the spread of Covid-19.

“The overall objective is to prevent people getting very sick, going into hospitals, ICUs. We simply have to limit the increase we are experiencing at the moment,” Martin said.

One upshot of this is that it will reverse managers’ attempts to corral staff back into the office despite widely-documented increased productivity gains during the pandemic. Another is that it will, once again, underscore the importance of information technology as crucial business infrastructure.

 

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It is no exaggeration to say the reason the global economy did not crash during the pandemic was, in large part, thanks to the effort of IT workers, from network engineers to systems administrators and even developers. While not quite on the front lines in the same way as medical staff, supermarket workers, meat packers, and delivery riders, it was hard work that ensured IT systems not only remained robust but rapidly expanded in order to deliver new services and changes to business models.

It is surely not too much to ask that IT workers enjoy an improvement in status in the workplace, or even in wider society.

But let’s also not kid ourselves that IT workers are underpaid. Software engineers, for example, can earn gross salaries in excess of €100,000. This compares to a national average of €40,283, with many earning significantly less. Professional jobs demand professional pay, after all.

All right, IT specialists aren’t technically ‘professionals’ per se, at least not in the sense of being self-regulated (though this writer’s advice is that they should all join the Irish Computer Society, and possibly a trade union too. After all, if it’s good enough for doctors, it’s good enough for anyone). What they are, though, is the key to keeping businesses in business – and increasingly so.

Market forces

So what might improved status look like in practice? For those at the lower end of the salary scale more money is the obvious answer, but for high earners it might mean a reduction in pressure or greater consultation on business decisions.

In both cases, IT workers are now in a position to take matters into their own hands.

The reality is that the job market is changing, and fast. Robin Craig, a director at recruitment specialists Cpl Technology, said that right now there were more vacancies than workers in Ireland across the spectrum of technology roles.

“Development jobs, QA testing, cyber and information security – even basic infrastructure. In the last 18 months, a lot of talent has left Ireland, to work remotely, and they’re only starting to filter back now,” he said.

Clearly, this creates leverage for prospective job-seekers, particularly for those seeking senior roles or moving away from entry level help desk positions.

Craig said, however, that higher salaries are typically not the price job-swappers were extracting from human resources departments.

“We’re not seeing massive rises in wages, it’s the benefits,” he said. “People are willing to forego the extra ten grand to get that extra flexibility.”

Despite the housing crisis now going nationwide, it appears that the ability to move out of the cities and suburbs, at the same time killing the commute, is music to the ears of many. And refusal to bend leads to snapping.

“Some businesses are hemorrhaging staff. They don’t want to go back to the office and no-one knows how long this [latest government push for remote working] will last,” Craig said.

How well are IT professionals treated in a business is certainly something worth thinking about, especially as they now have more leverage than ever. Working from home is no panacea (take it from someone who has endured more than three years of construction noise), but the ability to control one’s own destiny is a crucial human desire. No one clapped for IT workers during the pandemic, but who wants applause anyway? Something more tangible would surely be more welcome.


Professional Development for IT professionals

The mission of the Irish Computer Society is to advance, promote and represent the interests of ICT professionals in Ireland. Membership of the ICS typically reduces courses by 20%. Find out more


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