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While engineers and developers are in high demand, to land a coveted top role in IT they must keep current on the latest innovations, software and tools. “Upskilling is critical in the IT industry,” said Par Merat, vice president, learning and certifications at Cisco, which recently released the report “Accelerating Digital Agility Research.” The data revealed that 49% of CIOs and IT decision-makers are upskilling talent, while 46% said they’ll be investing in talent in new areas over the next 12 months.

Employers are reinvesting in talent across a distributed workforce, and according to Cisco’s research, IT professionals must be armed with “the proper software and tools.” A majority (86%) of decision-makers finds it very important that their teams have access to the best collaboration tools and software to prepare for the future of work.

“The pandemic accelerated the digital transformation of almost every industry, including healthcare, education, retail, restaurants and government services,” Merat said as she explained the continuing need for upskilling. “Businesses today are looking for online solutions to help their customers stay safe and resilient. From fashion to football, organizations need people with the skills to help them transform through connecting, securing and automating their systems, now more than ever and into the future.”

Merat continued: “Whether you have a job or are looking for one, how we connect, secure and automate networks continues to evolve,” Merat said. “Today’s networks are highly programmable, and automation is key for businesses that want to operate efficiently and reliably at scale.”

SEE: Return to work: What the new normal will look like post-pandemic (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

Pros who want to advance within their current companies must upskill, too. “For individuals who are looking to help their company advance their digital strategy, open communication with management is a must,” Merat said. “Be prepared to explain how the specific skills you will learn will translate to your role and bring value to your organization. Helping your management understand the opportunities that network automation and software development skills and certifications create can pave your way to success.”

Throughout the enterprise, technology courses are being offered, often for free. It’s important to avail yourself of the courses or certifications, in order to continue to be competitive. While free courses are convenient and welcome, there are situations where an investment may be a better choice, Merat said.

“The choices can be dizzying, and quality of training programs in the market today can be inconsistent, but there are a few clear signs to look for,” Merat advised. “First, consider training that is more about the role you want to have versus something focused on any one specific product, and where you can grow your skills from a specialist, to associate, to professional, to expert levels over time.”

“Second, look for training that combines a theoretical understanding of a topic with hands-on labs to give you the knowledge and real-world experience that prepares you best,” she said. “Leading vendors, such as Cisco and their authorized learning partners, tend to have the highest quality training programs and support, because they are the most current with the latest equipment, systems and industry best practices. They may require more investment, but they can deliver the most reliable return to enhance your skills and your salary prospects.”

Advancement in house

Once upon a time, employees worried that their attempts at becoming further certified would signal unhappiness in their current positions. But Merat said, “Open and honest expressions of interest in learning new skills should be a point in your favor, especially if you can connect what you’re learning to a ‘ripple effect’ of advancing success in your role, sharing your knowledge with your team, that builds in your company, even within your industry.”

“A continuous learning mindset benefits everyone,” she stressed. “Just be clear about the boundaries between what’s expected of you in your current role, and what you’re doing to take your career to the next level. Many companies strongly support and invest in the continued development of individuals and teams in support of their IT strategies.”

Communication is essential, and Merat said, “The stronger the correlation between your learning and how it benefits your employer, the more support you may receive.”

Skills you need to know now

When asked to choose the top two skills pros need to improve upon, she said, “Software programming with DevNet and CyberOps training” are “in high demand.”

The top five in-demand skills, she said, are linked to the following certifications:

  • Cisco certified network associate (CCNA) which includes automation skills
  • Implementing and operating Cisco enterprise network core technologies (ENCOR)
  • DevNet associate (DEVASC)
  • Implementing Cisco advanced routing and services (ENARSI)
  • Implementing and operating Cisco security core technologies (SCOR)

Merat said that demand “is also ramping up” for certified CyberOps associates and professionals who are prepared to prevent, detect and defend against security threats as part of a security operations center team.

No one is telepathic, but those in the know, like Merat, can viably offer predictions: “Industry trends suggest that how we connect, secure and automate networks have great potential,” she said. “CCNA, CyberOps and DevNet” will be “the skills and certifications in highest demand for the future.”

The very nature of this chosen field means that industry engineers and developers cannot really sit back and relax. “The IT industry does not stand still,” Merat said. “We refreshed our entire training and certification portfolio just over a year ago, and we continue to expand and update it. We also make continuing education available at all levels so it’s easier for learners to evolve their skills over time. Our communities enable learners to support and learn from each other. And, we advocate lifelong learning to ensure the best results for organizations and individuals.”

Lastly, she added, “In this industry, a lifelong commitment to learning yields optimal returns. IT moves fast, and we all have to adapt our skill sets on a continuing basis.”