In-demand skills in 2005 require strategic business acumen

According to the Robert Half Technology IT Hiring Index and Skills Report, we'll be seeing some IT hiring optimism. But it won't be blanket growth across all sectors.

Project managers, network administrators, and business analysts will be in growing demand during the first part of 2005, but they'll need a new set of skills to land the jobs, particularly in the areas of finance, compliance, research and planning. That's the opinion of Terry Phillips, branch manager for Robert Half Technology's Columbus, OH marketplace, and a long-time technology recruiter and former techie. Phillips' employer just released the Robert Half Technology IT Hiring Index and Skills Report, which shows some hiring optimism in 2005.

In a national poll that includes responses from more than 1,400 CIOs from a stratified random sample of U.S. companies, 11 percent of CIOs polled said they'll be adding staff in 2005, an uptick of 9 percent over the previous quarter's forecasts.

It won't be blanket growth across all sectors, however, says Phillips.

Growth sectors

The wholesale sector leads all industries in hiring optimism, with 16 percent from this sector planning to staff more IT. CIOs from retail, business services, finance, insurance and real estate industries also anticipate notable employment gains.

Several factors are driving the positive hiring projections. According to Phillips, these include:

  • Companies going through a refresh cycle to bring older technologies up to date.
  • Public companies responding to regulatory requirements, such as the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002, a law requiring public companies to follow strict requirements for financial record keeping and reporting.
  • General business expansion, requiring infrastructure expansion and more help desk/end-user support.
  • Increased attention to firewall administration and wireless network management.
  • Projects associated with SQL management and Cisco network administration.

Large public or soon-to-be public companies are driving much of the projected job growth due to compliance needs pertaining to Sarbanes-Oxley.

"It has forced companies to spend money on compliancy, where small firms haven't necessarily been held to that standard," said Phillips. "I think smaller firms are getting into things like IT corporate governance, but not to the full length that a public firm or a larger firm that wants to go public."

New job category

IT governance itself is creating a new job category for people with CIO/CFO skills. "Instead of a CIO, there will be an individual appointed at some of the larger firms to deal with the compliance aspect—sort of like a Chief Compliance Officer," said Phillips. The person will need a CIO or CFO background and should have implemented a Sarbanes-Oxley compliance project or corporate governance project.

Like the CIO, the network administrator, business analyst and project manager will see evolution in their jobs.

A new breed of network administrator

Due to the increased use of automation in the network, network administration jobs are going to evolve in two ways. In 2005, more opportunities will arise for people with entry-level skills. Those net admins with advanced networking skills will become less tactical and more strategic in their jobs, requiring net admins to have strong business skills in research, planning, and project management.

The shift to automation makes way for net admins who are just starting their careers. "With automation, there is room for more operational skill sets, which could be brought in and developed on an entry level skill set," says Phillips.

Project managers on the move

Project managers also find themselves in demand this year. After being in maintenance mode for a number of years, companies wanting to expand need a new cadre of project managers"the people to plan for, budget, and drive new projects. "Whenever you have business expansion, there always has to be someone leading that charge," says Phillips.

In terms of job growth for PMs, Sarbanes-Oxley projects are creating much of the demand. Project managers are needed to handle the implementation of process and procedures laid out in corporate governance initiatives, and for that, they'll have to know business rules and processes.

As companies push into infrastructure upgrades, project managers will also find opportunities in infrastructure roll-outs and upgrades.

"When you've been in survival mode for a period of time, the project manager skill set is not there to do a new project or project development," says Phillips. "So really the need for project managers has increased quite heavily because of that aspect."

Business analysts shifting focus

Phillips also predicts a shift in the roles and responsibilities of business analysts. He's seeing a great number of companies reengineer processes and procedures based on the software they're purchasing.

"Companies have realized that whenever you have to upgrade [custom] software, you have to go all the way back to the drawing board," says Phillips. "You're talking about large dollars and expenditures."

Companies are shifting to prepackaged business solutions with built-in best practice business processes. This cuts down on expense related to maintaining custom processes, but also redefines the business analysts' job. "You've got to have a person to take the technology and work it into the business process, rather than take the business process and write requirements for the software," says Phillips.

Getting ready for the growth

Technology professionals wanting to seize these new opportunities have to stay current with the demands of their professions. Techs should pursue training or projects that will get them more involved with business processes and understanding how business works.

"I think that going forward it's not just about the technology, but it's about bringing business knowledge along with the technology," says Phillips.

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