Utilities companies are offering bonuses to retain IT workers with key skills, as consolidation and deregulation keeps up demand for staff.
The firms are offering one-off lump sums to attract and retain staff, although the amounts being paid are slightly lower, according to recruiters in the sector.
Skills shortages in certain IT areas are so high that all utilities companies surveyed by human resources consultancy Watson Wyatt said that they now pay additional market premium payments to IT staff.
This compares with 80 per cent of respondents to a survey conducted in the previous year.
Nick Shasha, a consultant at Watson Wyatt's UK arm, told vnunet.com: "There has always been strong demand for IT staff in the utilities sector.
"Although it's common across all sectors for companies to pay additional market premium payments to IT staff, you don't generally see it across every participant."
All 11 utilities companies surveyed made additional payments within the IT job family, compared to 75 per cent for finance, and 50 per cent for legal staff.
Average pay increases in the UK utilities sector are down marginally to three per cent from 3.6 per cent in 2001 across all tiers of employees from directors and senior managers to clerical staff.
Bryan Corke, managing consultant at recruitment firm TMP Worldwide, explained that, although 2002 had been a difficult year for the utilities sector, demand for good candidates with niche IT skills combined with utilities sector knowledge had remained strong.
"Specialist IT staff with broad market experience across a diverse range of utilities products are best placed to command the highest premiums as utilities companies continue to expand the portfolio of products offered alongside their core business," he said.
Jayesh Parmar, vice president of utilities market restructuring at Cap Gemini Ernst and Young, indicated that IT projects relating to electricity trading arrangements introduced four years ago are starting to tail off.
But merger and acquisition activity, and widespread consolidation across the industry, is driving decisions about new integrated architectures and projects to combine customer databases.
"Consolidation is making utilities companies think carefully about information management. IT resource is increasingly sought after, and it is difficult to find people with the depth of experience," said Parmar.
"Ideally you need someone who understands the utility industry and its terminology, and has a knowledge of existing systems such as SAP or point solutions."
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