Why You Can’t Ignore the IT Market in Chicago

by Anastasia C. Valentine on June 4, 2015




Chicago has long been a hub for innovation and creating technology that is cutting edge. Major companies like Boeing, Motorola, Google, GrubHub and Groupon along with start-up organizations have made Chicago a true pacesetter in the world of information technology.

Yet when people look for hot beds of IT innovation, their compass typically points to Silicon Valley and San Francisco. That leaves us with two big questions:

What is the current state of the IT market in Chicago? How does that affect hiring?

What is the State of the IT Market?

Following the 2009 downturn of the economy, the IT market in Chicago was quick to rebound. In a study by Crain’s, the upturn of the Windy City’s job market was among the highest ranked for the fastest-growing IT sectors.

According to Forbes, Chicago comes in at sixth place for tech job growth among the nation’s most populated cities at 19.3%. Which regions surpassed it? The city of San Francisco at 51.1%, Austin at 34.2%, the San Francisco peninsula at 30.1%, New York at 22.6%, and Silicon Valley at 19.9%.

Last year alone in Chicago, over $1 billion of venture capital investment flowed into businesses ranging from big name brand IPOs to mid-size and startup companies. This investment only fueled the information technology growth in Chicago.

Additionally, Staffing Industry Analysts predicted that IT staffing revenue would be $25.9 billion in 2014. That’s higher than IT staffing revenue in 2000 during the height of the last IT boom, which was only $21.5 billion.

For 2015, the Chicago job market appears to be on the right trajectory. SIA predicts IT staffing revenue will increase to $27.8 billion. Mayor Rahm Emanuel recently partnered with 16 technology companies making a serious commitment to hiring talent for almost 1,000 IT jobs by the end of 2015. Moreover, the gradual increase of profitability for major businesses like Groupon, Google, and GrubHub will increase employment even further.

If the projected hiring numbers land on target, that bodes very well for job seekers in the Chicago IT market. Industries as diverse as the eCommerce, healthcare, marketing, and IT service sectors will be open to adding qualified, hard-working talent to positions all throughout the city and suburbs of Chicago.

Is there talent to feed the IT market in Chicago?

Chicago is no stranger to prestigious universities and some of the highest ranked computer science programs are right in Chicago’s backyard.

U.S. News & World Report routinely releases lists of top ranking academic institutions and several Illinois schools were included among the top 100. On the 2014 top computer science program list, out of the top ten colleges, the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign was ranked at number five.

Moreover, two universities directly in Chicago’s region were included among the top 100 best computer science programs.  Northwestern University in Evanston was tied for #34 and the University of Illinois in Chicago was tied for #60.

Though that helps with the identification of talent for entry level jobs, mid and senior level positions are still harder to fill. A skills gap persists in many niche disciplines and emerging technology. The biggest tech trends including big data, cloud computing, UX and mobile development are in the highest demand and are showing some of the largest skill gaps. That’s why it is paramount for those hiring to be conscious of their own strategies.

It is key to remember that qualified talent is a limited commodity. Any exemplary active candidate in the Chicago IT market will have multiple job offers on the table. Effective employers need to move fast and make competitive offers. There are greater opportunities with passive candidates, but it can be a full-time job trying to identify those willing to leave their current employers.

Are people staying in the Chicago IT market?

Cook County as a whole has been witnessing a minor exodus of well-educated, highly paid residents since 2007. Some moved to satellite counties like DuPage, Lake, and Kane County, which at least keeps them in the immediate Chicagoland area. Others are making the move west.

However, younger tech workers are still feeling the magnetic pull to Chicago’s city center. The established presence of Groupon, GrubHub, and Gogo with the addition of Chicago-based campuses for Google and Facebook keep attracting young talent to the Windy City. In the long run, that makes a respectable contribution to the Chicago IT market.

The health of the Chicago IT market is strong for those who know how to use the information and resources available to them.

Top professionals with mid to senior level experience have options. Whichever employer can provide the most alluring incentive with the fastest turn-around time will win their attention. Passive candidates might seem like the right alternative, but recruiting them from their current jobs is a long process that too frequently ends with an accepted counteroffer.

In the end, employers who want to thrive in the Chicago IT market need to be aware of competing opportunities, the demand for current talent, and the attractiveness of other big cities.

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