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IT skills: Jumping the chasm

Tracy Mayor and Julia King | June 5, 2012
The current tech talent gap is just the first sign of a coming revolution in the IT labor market. Here's how to secure your footing now and brace for what's ahead.

Suzanne Fairlie is also hearing how difficult it is to find people with certain skills -- but she says the gap involves a different set of skills. Fairlie, president of ProSearch, a nationwide executive search company with a strong focus on CIO placement, took a back-of-the-envelope survey of 12 CIOs with whom she has worked recently.

The Future of IT...

  • Smaller IT departments.
  • Tech positions embedded within business units.
  • Fewer purely technical jobs.
  • Broader job descriptions.
  • Many outsourced functions.
  • Demand for people who know multiple technologies.
  • Strategic, analytic and communication skills at a premium.

...And How to Thrive

  • Make career management your No. 1 skill.
  • Pursue training and certifications -- on your own time and on your own dime, if necessary.
  • Aim to solve business problems, not tech problems.
  • Develop soft skills like communication.
  • Either commit to an industry and build business skills...
  • ...or develop deep IT skills and work for an outsourcer or service provider.
  • Consider consulting.

"To a person, everybody validated that there is a gap," she says. But it's not necessarily a gap in deep technical skills; it primarily involves the strategic skills that managers are increasingly demanding of everyone in their departments.

The list includes "business analysis skills, relationship skills, understanding the value of IT to the organization, navigating internal politics," says Fairlie. "Those are hard to come by, and yet, they're so essential."

Jack Cullen, president of Modis, a global provider of IT staffing services, concurs. "In today's marketplace, if you have good references and a strong technical skill set and can communicate how you'll provide ROI, four jobs will be waiting for you," he says.

What amazes, and to some degree frustrates, Cullen are those instances when clients choose not to hire a job applicant because they can't check every box on their wish lists. "We're seeing this huge pent-up demand, and the pool of labor isn't growing. And yet, what's perplexing is just how specific hiring managers still are," he says. "They want this skill, that particular work on the network side, certifications, this many years of experience. Companies are not willing to take a risk. Nobody's jumping out the window to hire the average employee."

Weinman blames the Great Recession for starting IT down the path that led to the skills gap, while cautioning that an improved economy won't much ease the crunch for many workers.

"Companies are getting leaner and leaner. Starting in 2008, they downsized and streamlined, and they haven't replaced those positions," he observes. "If you're the hiring director of one of these very lean teams, you want only A+ workers. In the past, someone could get away with being a solid middle-of-the-road employee. Not anymore."

Charles Williams sees the situation from both sides. As manager of data systems at Georgia System Operations, an electric utility in Tucker, Ga., he wants and expects the people who report to him (currently there are seven) to keep their skills up to date. At the same time, he acknowledges that he is challenged to keep his own knowledge fresh when day-to-day duties take priority over opportunities to investigate up-and-coming technologies.


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