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There’s a major IT skills gap in the country and it’s only expected to widen. According to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics, there will be 1 million more computing jobs than applicants by 2020.
And while this poses a problem for organizations without a plan to address it (two-thirds don’t, according to a recent CompTIA report), the skills gap can also be viewed as an opportunity. For IT pros and for businesses, there’s a chance to get ahead of your competition by matching supply and demand.
If you’re up for the challenge, read on to find out which areas are trending — in education, soft skills, networking, and hot technologies among others — and which are cooling down.
Hot: IT pros taking leadership roles
As budgets across all industries tighten, IT workers, like other enterprise groups, are increasingly expected to multitask.
“Organizations are putting IT staff in front of customers to share product insights and gather information,” says Kyle Gingrich, vice president of IT and certifications at Skillsoft. “They’re being asked to run Scrum teams. They need to present to peers or managers and may also be learning how to work with virtual teams. Whatever the new hat is that’s being added to their skills stack, it requires training in soft skills to be effective and it’s not typically the place that IT professionals are comfortable with.”
Technology now shapes leadership trends, says Donna Kimmel, senior vice president and chief people officer at Citrix. And so it’s crucial for IT staff to learn leadership skills as well.
“Technology becomes more meaningful when it’s put to work to address human needs, solve problems and help achieve goals,” Kimmel says. “Maintaining this human element in the enterprise will be much easier if the IT teams deploying big data, machine learning and IoT solutions have strong leadership and people skills, in addition to technical ones.”
Cold: Dev and ops in silos
In part because of workload migrations to the cloud, it’s less likely to see traditional user support and networking services separated from the dev team.
“The days of infrastructure and application development teams operating separately are dwindling as businesses look to operate in a more lean, agile way,” says Tim Leylek, branch manager of the IT direct hire practice at Addison Group.
Todd Vernon, CEO and co-founder of incident management services provider VictorOps, says proactive operations staffers are developing skills in software reliability engineering (SRE), with the idea of embedding in software development teams and focusing on speed, security and customer service — and avoiding a potentially dead-end career.
“If your career is in purely system administration and software operations, your technical job will be the first casualty of the high-velocity digital age,” Vernon says.
Hot: Soft skills
According to New Jersey-based HR software provider iCIMS, the top three soft skills recruiters are looking for are “problem solving (62 percent), adaptability (49 percent) and time management (48 percent).”
These stats come from their recent soft skills survey, which interestingly found that 1 in 3 recruiters are seeing soft skills on the decline in the past five years. “Ninety-seven percent of recruiting professionals agree that colleges and parents need to do a better job of teaching kids soft skills before they enter the workforce,” the survey reports.
James Stanger, chief technology evangelist for CompTIA, says the answer to boosting soft skills may be close by.
“Get a mentor who knows business and who knows how to communicate well,” Stanger says. “That mentor can be someone on the job, a neighbor, or someone you meet in a class or a good trade show. No one today wants to have a talky techie in the room who doesn’t know business. Likewise, no one wants a blathering businessperson in there, either. Put together key tech, business, and soft skills, and people will beat a path to your door.”
Cold: Ability to pursue soft skills
While most tech pros agree developing soft skills could boost their careers, just over half, according to CompTIA’s “Assessing the IT Skills Gap” report, are working on this skill set.
Part of the issue may be a perceived lack of support from employers to pursue professional development. About 40 percent of the CompTIA study respondents disagreed that their company supports their career growth. About the same said they didn’t have the tools or resources to do their jobs. “These two matters may be quite frustrating for IT pros, especially given their desire for continued learning,” according to the report. “Though many organizations may support IT employee training and professional development to some degree, it’s simply not enough.”
Spiceworks, a social network for IT pros, recently put out its “2017 Tech Career Outlook” report, which suggests most IT staffers, understandably, working on their tech skills but aren’t brushing up on people skills.
“While soft skills are considered the second-most important IT skill to have,” the report says, “only 29 percent of IT pros plan to work on them next year. Instead, technology professionals are more likely to brush up on technical areas including networking, virtualization, and cybersecurity.”
Framed a different way, IT staff might see an opportunity to leapfrog 71 percent of their colleagues who aren’t making the time for deepening their soft skills.
Hot: Analytics certifications
Companies swamped with data from the cloud and IoT devices are struggling to analyze that information in a way that helps their business make decisions. So there’s an increasing push for analytics and automation to help firms succeed.
“Of course, any skill set that touches data is hot,” says Rick Sullivan, vice president at technology staffing firm CTG. “BI, analytics, IoT programming and development, big data, machine learning, AI, block chain and ERP.”
“Analytics is king in terms of generating value from data and the more that can be done to improve analytics, the better, for example improvements in curating data for analytics,” says Gavin Robertson, CTO of software company WhamTech. “Dumping copies of operational data without addressing fundamental data management processes can lead to actually losing value or not realizing as much value as could have been realized — up to 80 percent of difficult-and-expensive-to-obtain data scientists’ and analysts’ time is wasted on data preparation.”
This demand for data chops has many IT pros tackling data analytics certifications — or a career switch into data science.
Cold: Vendor-specific certifications for security
Earning certifications for vendor-specific technologies is seeing less demand, at least in the area of cybersecurity, according to CompTIA.
“Cybersecurity involves myriad technical and business issues,” Stanger says. “Vendor-specific training tends to focus on features rather than critical issues facing companies today. In security and networking, the more performance-based and hands-on the credential, the more it’s valued. Folks in the IT industry — and, more importantly, the companies who hire IT folks — tend to value certifications that validate and require proof of hands-on learning.”
Hot: Personal relationships with contacts
CompTIA’s Stanger says tech pros should be focusing on what he calls “quality conversations” — and the more the better.
“Use good blogging and communication skills to communicate on a one-to-many basis with your contacts,” Stanger says. “Don’t simply self-promote. Stream valuable, curated content and thoughts to people in your network. You’ll find that what interests you will generally interest them.”
It’s a two-way street: IT staff excel when they make personal connections, and their managers need to work those same muscles to get the best from their team.
“Having authentic performance and development conversations that are frequent and just-in-time, rather than high-stakes conversations annually, will motivate people toward creativity and excellence,” says Citrix’s Kimmel.
Cold: Padding LinkedIn connections
Recruiters, including AI-based headhunters, still rely on well keyworded profiles. But relying on those alone isn’t advised.
“Simply growing your LinkedIn numbers and padding your profile is out,” says Stanger.
IT pros who can meld personal connections with tech skill will outperform even those with more traditional hard skills, says David S. Patterson, president of IT staffing and executive search firm The Kineta Group.
“It’s not only the understanding of technology, but it’s the understanding of technology and how to creatively weave that into the business landscape that will be the real difference maker in the coming job market,” Patterson says.
Hot: Business skills
Innovating in today’s IT workplace, our experts say, means developing business smarts for those who want to advance their careers.
“We’re starting to see more roles in business competencies, like in marketing or operations, that reward an IT background or competency,” says Lev Lesokhin, executive vice president of strategy and analytics at software intelligence firm CAST. “As software continues to permeate everything we do, it’s becoming more imperative for ops people to at least have a baseline understanding of what technology does for the business.”
Even hot areas like analytics don’t exist in a vacuum. “Almost any function in the business has a lot of data they are dealing with on a regular basis and need the analytics function to ensure that data can tell the story,” says Mona Abou-Sayed, vice president of organizational development and talent at telecommunications company Mitel. “This requires a minimum level of business understanding to be able to pull out relevant stories from the data.”
Cold: Moving from tech to finance
While business skills are increasingly expected of IT staff, most tech workers like where they are and aren’t as interested in moving to the business side of the office as they may once have been.
“In fact, we see the opposite,” says Mitel’s Abou-Sayed, “where workers from other segments are shifting into more tech-centric roles.”
“Most developers are still very interested in tech-centric job opportunities,” says Lesokhin. “There’s an interesting flux of talent going between organizations with a more ‘startup-y’ vibe like what Google has, versus working at a financial services organization or a bank that’s willing to pay more to recruit top talent. The tradeoff is between having a more exciting job where you’re working on innovative projects like self-driving cars, or taking a more traditional role where you may be compensated more for a more dull day-to-day environment.”
Hot: Hybrid roles
Jesus Pena, VP of sales and services at United Data Technologies, says in the past few years he’s definitely seeing a transition to more hybrid IT roles.
“No longer are the days for technical resources to be in silos,” Pena says. “They need to be retrained and be thinking more about business outcomes, ROI conversations and vertical expertise.” But it's not always easy.
“This is an uncomfortable conversation for most technical people,” Pena says, “because they usually play in the IT department and this will push them outside of that comfort zone.”
Todd Loeppke, lead CTO architect at Sungard Availability Services, says market changes and the rise of devops have paved the way for more and varied hybrid roles.
“It’s critical that IT people know when, where and how to leverage and monetize new technology,” says Loeppke. “We are seeing this right now with machine learning and blockchain. Machine learning requires large data sets to learn from and test with. Business insight is critical for guiding how ML is implemented. Similar to the career path for IT staff, the business side also has an added technical career path — data scientist.”
Cold: Jumping ship (vs. moving up)
Nearly 80 percent of IT pros in a recent CompTIA report said they were very or mostly satisfied -- and just over a third said they were very satisfied with their jobs. And those numbers are up slightly from a survey taken in 2015.
“Generally, IT professionals consider an internal promotion to be a new job,” says Cliff Milles, lead technical recruiter for Sungard AS. “I think a major driver regarding this decision is whether the person wants to remain with their current company or get a fresh start.”
Hot: Developing security skills
Our experts say IT pros are developing cybersecurity skills to broaden their tool kit, advance their careers and protect their firms.
“We’ll see huge growth in security and compliance,” says CTG’s Sullivan. “IT has to address the safety component as we adopt technology exponentially faster.”
Part of the problem comes from a lack of security training in computer science programs and boot camps. Schools are racing to adopt related coursework, but that’s just one part of the problem, says Lesokhin.
“Some universities are still in the process of bolstering their secure development courses, and over 40 percent of IT developers don’t have computer science or engineering degrees to start with,” Lesokhin says. “In 2015, the U.S. graduated 60,000 computer science or equivalent majors, and in 2016 we had 18,000 people go through online coding schools that are 12-week crash courses in the basics of programming. You do the math.”
The gap for security, compliance and governance focused on apps, cloud and systems will continue to widen.
“We expect this trend to continue,” says Sullivan, “particularly as high-profile security breaches unfold, like the one seen at Equifax where failure to put an important patch in place was a key factor.”
Cold: Traditional benefits (vs. work-life balance)
There’s no question that salary seals the deal on most successful IT hires, but we’re hearing a steady buzz about the need for benefits that go beyond retirement plans and vacation.
“Entry-level engineers value being recognized and the sense of being a part of something larger than themselves,” says Joe Vacca, CMO and EVP of strategy and innovation at IT recruiting and training firm Revature. “They want to work on projects that they believe in and make a difference. As for benefits, non-traditional benefits seem to resonate, as well as employment structures that are flexible and promote work-life balance.”
“It continues to be a competitive environment in hiring technical talent,” says Alex Robbio, president and co-founder of Belatrix Software. “Of course salaries are a key factor, but the opportunity to build a strong career and have an enjoyable working environment are also critical.”
Interestingly there appear to be some differences in the way American and European IT pros look at their compensation.
“According to our data, salary is the top driver for 62 percent of developers in the U.S., whereas in Europe with countries like France, salary was only the top driver for 25 percent of respondents,” says Lesokhin. “Building something innovative, getting recognition and seeing an opportunity for advancement were also among the top drivers for developers across the board.”
Michael I. Kaplan, Cyber Security Architect