They've never had it so good. Graduates in IT have the best opportuniti es and can soon name their price. But not everyone is able to take the hi- tech road to riches, says Roger Trapp
It is, admittedly, hardly a surprise, but information technology is a boom area for graduates. The latest edition of What Do Graduates Do?, which is published by the Association of Graduate Careers Advisory Services with support from The Independent, shows that more than three- quarters of those graduating in 1995 were in employment by the end of the year, with fewer than one in 12 embarking on further study or training. This compares with overall figures indicating that more like 60 per cent of home first-degree candidates were in employment by the end of the year, while a 10th started a higher degree and a further 10th were in some other form of study or training.

The picture is particularly healthy in the financial sector where, according to Claire Mowat, recently recruited director of Essential Systems Partners, a division of Hewitson-Walker, the market is "extremely buoyant". It is, she adds, "almost back to where it was in the 1980s".

This boom time for IT contractors is being partly driven by the onset of European monetary union and the much-hyped "Year 2000 Problem". But, as Ms Mowat explains, a lot is due to the fact that the area is constantly developing. Because the people working inside an organisation cannot keep pace with such change, businesses must rely on consultancies to do the work for them.

Traditionally, large international players such as Andersen Consulting and Computer Sciences Corporation have dominated this line of work. But in recent years, smaller niche operators have also made inroads.

Among them is Braxxon Technology, which was founded in 1988 and now has about 40 staff working with such clients as JP Morgan, Nomura, SBC Warburg and Royal Bank of Scotland.

Where the large firms typically takes over a large project such as the installation of a new dealing room by devoting a small army of people to it, Braxxon seeks to differentiate itself by contributing only a handful of experts who will then work alongside the client to achieve the desired result, says Francis Morton, associate director.

This policy helps to deal with Ms Mowat's concern that excessive use of consultants is contributing to the IT skills shortage through preventing a transfer of knowledge and expertise.

But banks and other institutions are increasingly taking the view that large parts of information technology are a commodity which can be supplied by a specialist operations outfit rather than an activity that provides a competitive edge. At the same time, they take the view that while technology is changing faster than ever before, the big projects do not come along often enough to justify keeping often expensive well-qualified staff permanently.

Consequently, contractors and consultancies like Braxxon are able to build their businesses by picking up employees with one to two years' experience of banking.

But both Mr Morton and Ms Mowat are agreed that not just anybody will do for this role. There is a huge demand for people who can bridge the gap between IT and the broader business issues.

They are so few and far between that people fitting the bill can apparently almost write their own salary cheques. But as Mr Mowat explains, anybody whose vocabulary is limited to "bits and bytes" need not apply