IT Employment optimize

Are jobs for support pros disappearing?

Once upon a time, a job in IT seemed a fairly safe bet. But now the economy is in the tank and lots of companies are looking to streamline their workforce. Here are three trends that I worry might affect the security of your job.

Once upon a time, a job in IT seemed a fairly safe bet. But now the economy is in the tank and lots of companies are looking to streamline their workforce. Here are three trends that I worry might affect the security of your job.

---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

The news is regularly announcing job layoffs in every industry, and even giants like Microsoft aren't immune. I find myself wondering how this will affect IT pros that focus on providing user support. Here are three trends that I worry might affect the security of your job.

Support tasks can be handled by other technical employees.

I think a lot of businesses are rolling support duties into other IT positions. In some cursory research, I have seen a lot of jobs posted for network and system administrators that carry responsibility for fielding user support requests. It also seems common that in-house developers are now being expected to provide user support for the apps they develop. I'm not opposed to having some support duties taken on by other IT roles, but I worry that managers will think that doing so means they can eliminate the dedicated support pros.

Support roles can become contract positions.

Many of the user support jobs I have seen advertised are temporary contract positions. I can think of a couple of ways this might help a business economize. Perhaps support techs are being hired only for the duration of a particular project or system roll-out, or companies are attempting to save the cost of the benefits that a permanent position might merit. No matter what the justification, I don't want to see stable benefits-eligible positions be replaced by short-term contracts. I think that such a practice will create turnover and effectively cap the compensation that support techs might expect from the market.

Support capacity can be consolidated.

The tools exist that allow managers to decouple technical support from specific physical locations. Remote desktop tools mean a tech can troubleshoot machine or install software from anywhere. Outsourcing IT services entirely is also attractive in tough times. A lot of executives can't get over seeing technology as a cost center. Many managers might be tempted to trim down the support division, especially since it doesn't contribute as directly to revenue as some other IT personnel.

I'll be the first to admit that I'm not a business analyst, but as the market tightens and more people are put out of work, these are ideas that keep me awake at night. How do things look from where you sit? Are you seeing any of these trends in your organizations and communities? Let me hear your thoughts in the comments.

28 comments
DuarTech
DuarTech

As a current employed professional in the industry I found this to be an interesting article. First let me stated that I was hired as a QA Analyst/Tester for my current employer. I then went on to be the Infrastructure Engineer with 90% of the workload being tech support. The fact that I am trying to enter the Networking Arena and have also notice that more and more these positions are in deed looking for end user support as well seems to be a moot point during this economic time. Nonetheless I do have to state that support techs should not be outsourced completely, but to those organizations that do choose this route they must keep in mind that if their support is outsourced there should not be no internal employee with these skill sets since eventually the users will most likely go to the individual who is internal vs. the outsourced help desk. I know this of first hand. What concerns me the most is that outsource companies get usually paid more for the support service and are used less when there is an internal staff that can be addressed first. Not to mention that if you have a great customer service background it usually makes the help desk look bad in comparison to the approach that is being used between the techs. By the way my current employer does outsource the help desk at twice the pay that I make and I address 90% of the user technical issues. My two cents...

daileyml
daileyml

In my experiences both in-house and as a consultant/contractor I see many organizations letting people go that really should have stayed. The issue is that management didn't see the value in keeping that individual. As an IT resource you have to sell yourself every day--in good economic times as well as bad--to ensure management knows your value. I've written about this a few times (http://daileymuse.com/2009/01/technical-jobs-in-a-downtrodden-economy/) and I always end up getting emails or comments from people saying "I didn't think of that." The problem is that we need to be thinking about this, and we need to think about it every day. An organization isn't going to shed a technical resource that is needed to keep the company in business. It is our job as that resource to show that we are a valuable asset that results in profitability. It's also wise to put the time in to preparing your career in case you are affected by a layoff (http://daileymuse.com/2009/01/5-things-you-should-do-before-the-loss-of-your-it-job/). The worse possible time to work on your resume, references, etc. is AFTER you've been let go. -Mike D http://www.daileymuse.com

NickNielsen
NickNielsen

Unfortunately for the specialists, the consolidation of support roles is tending to prove that Lazarus Long was correct: specialization is for insects.

LittleStick
LittleStick

I work in the construction indusrty and have stayed busy over the last 5 years working on construction projects (when one ends another begins), but currently our company does not have any work lined up after the project that I am on.

madtechnologist
madtechnologist

Yes, it seems more and more support roles are being contracted. I've seen this trend for a couple of years now.

walter.perry
walter.perry

These IT support layoffs have started happening here where I work. With so many companies laying off thousands of employees weekly or simply going out of business completely it is just of matter of time before the IT support layoffs visit a location near you! This economy is in free fall and the wheels are coming off. Brace yourselves!

waytoobusyforthisnonsense
waytoobusyforthisnonsense

A career spent in healthcare, part as an IT professional, tells me that if we want to provide IT support (in healthcare), we have to understand the business you support. I get so tired of know-it-all people who are technically proficient that think they are God's gift to the computer industry. Those support guys are a dime a dozen & they want to sit on their duffs and eat pizza, call in sick and gripe about how busy they are, when they don't even have a clue. Give me a company whos support techs know what it's like to be patient care givers, frustrated with their systems, PCs, or whatever IT-related problems they are having, who knows what it's like to have some smart-alecky IT helldesk tech laughing at them when they get off the phone, and I'll give you a company who won't be outsourced when the going gets tough. Been there, done that; now I have to go help someone who is really contributing to the world.

DSGM1
DSGM1

On December 15, I was given notice that IT for my former place of employment would be outsourced the first of 2009. Bare in mind that I was the network admin and sole IT person on staff for a company that provides mission critical, time sensitive, financial market driven information in real-time to clients all across the United States. I was on call 24/7 for *years* and had a sterling reputation among the partners and employees of the company. No one had any complaints; they were just looking for a way to cut overhead and my salary was on the chopping block. True to their word, on January 15 I, the sole IT person at my company, was given my pink slip and a decent severance package. The company's new theory of operation involves outsourcing 100% of the management and support of their IT infrastructure. Oddly enough, a lot of it has been outsourced back to *me* for the past few weeks (as an independent consultant) but I'm slowly weening them off of my support so that I can pursue other clients and diversify my risk profile. I say all of this to illustrate a point: Companies are throwing caution to the wind right now just to save a buck or two. Sadly, common sense and a calm demeanor are not prevailing in the current economy but rather are giving way to fear motivated decisions. We're only seeing the tip of the iceberg right now. The situation is going to get much worse and more competent IT professionals will find themselves facing layoffs and downsizing in the year ahead.

vanderle2004
vanderle2004

We had our helpdesk outsourced out of state and after 27 years with the company I'm out of a job. The IT department now consists of three people.

greig813
greig813

As an IT recruiter I have to say there are still an abundance of IT support positions and I would still highly recommend IT support as a career path because of every company needs IT support infact there remain thousands of open positions in IT support. While I feel the article raises valid points the reduction is small in comparison to the total number of IT support openings nationwide and world wide. I am actively seeking referrals for IT workers if anyone knows anyone looking. Greig Wells Homebased Recruiting Expert www.cashinyourcontacts.com

williamjones
williamjones

Take a look at my original post. I firmly believe that user support is its own IT skill set, but not everyone sees things my way. My fear is that in tough economic times employers might look to cut support techs. Have you been seeing any signs that support capacity is being trimmed back? Are any of the fears I list in my post coming to fruition?

clarkcomputer
clarkcomputer

i've never let myself become comfortable in a certain skill set or position. my advice and my practice is to always be educating myself both formally and informally. getting certifications, taking college classes, watching what others are doing and asking questions, helping out. then, "sell myself" by broadcasting what i know and how i can help in areas that aren't my primary responsibility. this has worked in 2 careers and in several locations.

reisen55
reisen55

Even when you have a job or are working a client. Run Scared but be pro-active. Keep your resume out there, keep networking (most important) and pile up reserve cash. Keep your lines of communication alive, send out newsletters, etc. But always act as if you actually ARE fired and that makes finding the new job all the faster. On interviews - I never let a company interview me. On the contrary, I AM INTERVIEWING THEIR COMPANY to see if they are GOOD ENOUGH for my standards. Turns the whole argument around and puts me in a position of strength and power.

NickNielsen
NickNielsen

You still get laid off because, after all, how can you be doing all this stuff if the network isn't going down and PCs aren't breaking and the website runs like a top and all you ever do is wander around and putter here, then putter there? Now what? Have you ever tried to explain preventive maintenance to a manager with no technical experience?

digbyd
digbyd

They are laying off our entire help desk as well as our field techs and project coordinators and telecom support people. They've come up with a new job that combines all of our roles into one. Of course there are far fewer open positions than there are laid off workers. Our help desk of 15 supports a hospital(11,200 employees) where sometimes patient care is affected if equipment goes down. I have no idea how they are expecting someone to be out in the field and handle potentially time sensitive help desk calls at the same time. Has anyone seen this model in action before? Does it work?

jim
jim

My wife & I both were "downsized" in early October, when our former employer axed 57% of its staff in order to stay afloat after gross ineptitude in the boardroom. We're still looking, and it's really gloomy out there...

clarkcomputer
clarkcomputer

sounds like you have specific issues with specific people. please don't lump all of us support techs in with the sterotype that you described. most of us care and understand your frustration. we can't fix everything in 2 seconds. stop calling me asking if it is fixed yet. we're working on it. i do support at a hospital. i don't have understand nursing or x-ray to understand the system they're using, what they use it for and how to solve most problems

reisen55
reisen55

In December 2005 CSC terminated 140 dedicated, talented professionals at Aon Group to replace them with techs whose previous career was - I kid you not - PIZZA DELIVERY in one instance. No nothings but cheap. Helpdesk in Bangalore too. All the smart hardworkers were canned in favor of cheap. And Aon has bought what they paid for too.

JohnMcGrew
JohnMcGrew

...it's been my experience that cleaning up messes created by IT cutbacks have been very profitable. I've made quite a few bucks through the years from people who cut back my services or replaced them with something cheaper, who then get in trouble and need me back to get things working the way they used to after someone else "improved" them. Lesson: Always leave on good terms.

paul.hudson
paul.hudson

I used to get 5 or 6 calls a week. Our newspaper had 4 - 5 pages of ads for IT support techs. Now, my organization is "reorganizing". We have a hiring freeze on with no relief in sight. There are "NO" ads in the paper. The phone calls have dried up and what few I get want me to sell insurance, be a collections agent or "work from home" and be a millionaire. I guess it just depends on what part of the country you are in and can/will you move.

pmg
pmg

We have just hired 4 new people (me included), we are a mid-sized distributor / IT School in Germany Europe.

XnavyDK
XnavyDK

I feel you. I found this job by accident/made it happen. I don't just do tech support. I do everything (or try too). I will be here till they close the doors on this place. But I tell you what, they wont close the doors because of me. and their systems will run top until they do. SO my answer to this is, diversify diversify diversify. Learn other skills and get that job, worked at a truck dispatcher until i got this job, yes it sucked, yes it was not related to my skill set, necessity overrides want in my book.

victor.gutzler
victor.gutzler

Working for city government, not to mention the water department (generates revenue, everyone needs water), I traded off higher pay for job security. With our first round of cuts back in October, the water department filled vacant positions from cuts in other departments. Yesterday I revised our organizational chart for the director so that he could make another round of cuts reaching even into the water department. We have our own IT section independent of the city IT department, but now it looks like we may be getting outsourced....

highlander718
highlander718

but I think that a general support role is becoming more and more a junior assignment from where eventualy one chooses a more specialized career path. With support per se as a career you can not advance too much. There are of course individulas that do not need/want to advance, they just like an easy/cosy comfortable position with not much stress. Problem is that when you're above 35-40 and you loose a job you don't have the age or the skills to get another very easily.

reisen55
reisen55

My theory of acting as an independent consultant is that if I AM DOING MY JOB RIGHT, then your network is running well and you do not see me toooooo much. A consultant who is charging hours upon hours putting out fires here and there is a pox on our house. Same with corporate IT. But precisely because everything is running so well that management OUTSOURCES us out, turns the whole show over to Bangalore and a helpless desk and - GUESS WHAT HAPPENS?

NickNielsen
NickNielsen

[i]I have no idea how they are expecting someone to be out in the field and handle potentially time sensitive help desk calls at the same time.[/i] And multitasking. ;)

DSGM1
DSGM1

Honestly I don't think there *IS* a model for this sort of thinking. Based on my recent experiences, I would say that the vast majority of the moves companies are taking to "cut operational overhead" are purely reactionary decisions being made by the very same executives who put the companies in dire straights to begin with. I'm quickly finding out that it is better to be The Man rather than work for The Man. Good luck to you.

DSGM1
DSGM1

Oh, I agree completely. In the past two weeks alone I have been compensated handsomely by my former employer to finish various projects and put out the typical "fires" that I had once been paid a decent salary to do. Leaving on good terms is always a wise move. It's never smart to burn a bridge that you might need again some day.