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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.

When Clent needs a specialized technical assist, he turns to service providers. "I don't have staff for all of those things that don't require business knowledge," he says. "When I really need somebody [with enough IT expertise] to go under the hood, I'll contract for them."

That state of affairs is actually good news for IT pros like James Penman and Vince Montalbano, who both once had jobs in corporate IT and now work as contractors.

Penman is a senior consultant at Smart Consulting Firm in Naples, Fla., which caters to the financial services industry. He previously served as a CIO or CTO at several startups, and he also worked at Bank of America and Wachovia Securities.

In other words, he's seen it all. And now, he says, consulting is the place to be -- for a certain type of IT professional, at least.

"There's been a natural evolution to the use of service providers and external clouds, and the talent has moved with that," Penman says. "I like to build and design and create big systems" -- as he did when he worked at the big banks -- "but any given company does not put in a new portfolio management system every year. If you're a real hotshot technology guy, you don't want to be sitting around doing maintenance for four years waiting for the next big-nut project."

Montalbano is a senior infrastructure consultant at Microsoft consultancy Catapult Systems in Houston. After surviving three rounds of layoffs at his first corporate IT job, he resigned and took a series of contract jobs, and that experience convinced him that there were more stable, and more interesting, opportunities for him outside the organization.

"Unless you're the guy with the in-house tribal knowledge of the company, everything else is going to wind up with a consultant or contractor," says Montalbano. He's currently working on a long-term Windows 7 deployment at a "pretty good-sized" international company. "They don't have the skills to do this in-house," he says.

Specialist or Generalist?

Like many big companies, consumer products giant Kimberly-Clark is combining what were individual IT specializations, such as firewall or intrusion-detection skills, into broader job titles.

The company once had more than 300 discrete job specifications for IT roles. But now, "I'm down to about 45," says David Richter, vice president of global infrastructure and operations.

As part of a broader plan to redeploy 252 in-house IT professionals, Kimberly-Clark employees are rotating through various jobs to learn the skills they need to perform in new roles. "Our roles are more generic than previously," he says.

Richter's goal is simple: "I need a broader bench. I need people who have two or three areas of expertise," he says.


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