There's no doubt the recession had a negative effect of employment, across all industries, including IT.

However, after months of staff cuts or hiring freezes, many companies are planning to start hiring again, and those that will be successful in grabbing the positions, will be IT employees with highly valued skills.

According to research by PC Advisor's sister title, Computerworld, nearly a quarter (23 percent) of IT firms plan to increase staff size in the next 12 months, that's a slightly increase on last year's figure of 20 percent.

"We're talking about hiring. It's happening now," says Dave Willmer, executive director of IT staffing services firm Robert Half Technology.

"Companies that cut staff or implemented hiring freezes are realising they need employees now to help upgrade IT systems and prepare their firms for potential growth."

What's more, IT managers are taking the opportunity to mould their departments into profit-making business units. We look at the 11 must-have skills that will guarantee to give you an edge over other candidates.

1. Programming and application development

About 47 percent of the Computerworld survey respondents who said they plan to hire IT professionals in the next year will be looking for people with programming or application development skills. Online recruitment firm Monster also reports that three quarters of the 245 HR managers and recruiters it surveyed in May plan to hire IT staffers with applications expertise by the end of this year.

"Those skills are separate from enterprise business applications," says David Foote, CEO and chief research officer at Foote Partners LLC.

In this volatile market, companies need to quickly reposition, as well as use IT to grow the business through new products and innovation.

So "RAD, rapid programming and agile programming seem to be coming back. Companies are starting to increase some of their pay [in these areas], which means they're looking for more capabilities in their companies," he says.

2. Project management

Kathleen Kay has put project managers at the top of her 2011 hiring list at Comerica Bank. With some 140 IT projects on the schedule, she will need people to oversee web and mobile initiatives, a treasury management product rollout and a legacy applications refresh, among other efforts.

The US bank will fill those needs by hiring new people and retraining existing employees.

"We are very passionate about investing in our people and making sure they stay up to speed on skills with emerging technologies," says Kay, senior vice president of business technology services.

People with project management skills will be sought by 43 percent of Computerworld's survey respondents who plan to make new hires, and by more than half of those polled by

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