In the current economic climate, having the most in-demand skills is more important than ever as businesses reconsider headcount, retaining only the most needed workers.
And while wafer thin budgets may mean formal training is unlikely, many of the most in-demand skills can be developed on the job by getting involved with ‘hot projects’ or by making sure new projects can provide workers with essential experience.
If you want to know where you need to put in the extra work, here are the top skills to develop to make sure your business can’t afford to let you go.
Virtualisation projects tend to be loved by the business as CFOs and CEOs appreciate the cost-saving aspect and are often kit to give them a green light.
“Our CIO survey says that cost-saving has been for the past three years the top priority for CIO so anything that helps them do that, like virtualisation, they are going to want to do,” Robert Grimsey, director at IT recruitment firm Harvey Nash told silicon.com.
However, skills in this area are lacking with relatively few workers able to describe themselves as a virtualisation specialist, according to Grimsey – creating a good opportunity for IT workers looking to develop useful skills.
Thanks to the popularity of virtualisation projects, those looking to build up the capabilities in the area can often gain experience in the office: IT workers should investigate whether there is a virtualisation project coming along within their company and, if there is, can they use it to gain experience in the virtualisation process.
2. Business analysis
IT workers who can demonstrate business analysis skills are in high demand, especially if they can also offer ways of solving the problems they identify and provide new insight into how business processes can be improved.
“What people are increasingly looking for are business analysts who provide: number one, real result for the business – not just providing business analysis but actually helping them see the result through – and number two, coming up with new innovations and new ideas that can really help the business,” Grimsey said.
“If you can put those two things on your CV you put yourself into…
…the �ber league of business analysts and make you extremely attractive to anyone trying to recruit in that area.”
IT workers should put extra effort into researching key business problems, devising ways in which technology can improve business processes and highlight any contribution they make to their boss to make sure it is noticed.
3. Social media
Business are taking social media more seriously then ever with CEOs looking to the IT department to develop a social media strategy that engages customers and keeps workers creative.
Although it doesn’t take a great amount of skill to navigate social networking sites such as LinkedIn or Facebook, being able to use and manipulate them for the enterprise – by generating business value, differentiating your social offerings from your competitors’ or connecting social elements into existing corporate systems – “it requires quite a lot of technical knowledge,” Grimsey said.
“The way social media is going, it’s increasingly becoming a development language in its own right. If you take, for instance, Facebook it’s actually possible to develop applications specifically for Facebook. The whole platform, which is based on a PHP environment, is actually getting close to being its own social media development language.”
IT staff should make an effort to get involved with any social media projects happening within the organisation to build up experience in this area and make sure to examine if social offerings can be bolted-on to existing IT systems.
4. Mobile development
As industries try to get closer to their customers, mobile development is increasingly on the business agenda according to VP at analyst house Gartner, Lily Mok.
“So those individuals who are able to bring in that creative element, improving the user experience, design experience, being able to leverage the social networking tools and collaboration technology will certainly be one of the focus areas of many organisations,” she said.
However, Harvey Nash’s Grimsey advised IT workers should always approach mobile development with one eye on…
…the future as technologies can grow in popularity, and equally fall from grace, at speed.
“It might be mobile app development [that’s hot] right now but in the future it may be HTML5, for instance, where it’s less about native app,” he said.
Taking a keen interest in the area, and trying to keep one step ahead, can help IT workers ensure that they can make a useful contribution to any mobile development projects in the business.
5. Project management
In the current economic climate, being able to keep tight control over projects so they don’t run overbudget is a more important skill than ever.
To be a good project manager, an IT worker needs to show that they can keep the complexity and size of a project to a minimum while also demonstrating that they can manage projects creatively and get the most out of new technologies.
According to Grimsey, employers are looking to hire someone who can “run a tight ship and innovate – they need someone who can do everything”.
As new technologies such as advanced mobile hardware, social networking and cloud computing see continued uptake, and traditional enterprise security is put to the test as a result, professionals with skills in keeping an enterprise safe are increasingly in demand.
Tech staff working in security need to find ways of securing the organisation’s data while still allowing the business to benefit from the flexibility that can be gained through mobile working and the opportunities presented by emerging technologies.
7. Data management
With the big software houses beginning to sell systems to tackle big data – the mass of unstructured data companies gather but don’t derive useful business information from – and the trend was recently identified as one of the top 10 strategic technologies for 2012. Consequently, expect skills in managing big data to become progressively more in demand.
“The data/information management-related skillset will become in high demand just because of sheer amount of data we have right now and organisations wanting to utilise the mass of data they have to be able to draw better business solutions and develop new products and services,” said Gartner’s Mok.
“Information management, infomatics, those kinds of skills will definitely be in continuously high demand.”
8. Cloud computing
With the momentum behind cloud computing continuing to grow in recent years, businesses are struggling to find IT workers with the right skillset.
“Cloud computing-related skillsets are in demand because…
… more and more companies are trying to adopt that new delivery model,” Mok said.
And yet IT workers’ skills haven’t kept up, as cloud computing requires a broader range of capabilities than typically required of them.
“It’s not just about delivering the technical system yourself now – it’s about integration, it’s about solution design, it’s about being able to manage a service and service brokerage,” she added.
As cloud computing gives IT departments more flexibility, businesses also want IT staff that can think creatively and innovate new ways to take advantage of moving to the cloud.
9. Soft business skills
Soft business skills have traditionally been hard to find among many IT workers, but with the business increasingly looking to the IT department for innovation, they’re more necessary than ever.
“Along with understanding business processes, being able to develop communication skills and being able to talk in the business language are important – all those skills that are not necessarily in the vocabulary of the technical professional who learned computer science, doing the coding,” Mok said.
“If [staff] want to retain their position as an IT professional, increasingly organisations are looking for that hybrid of business and technical skillsets,” she added.
The best way for tech workers to develop a greater understanding of the softer skills needed to communicate with the rest of their organisation is to spend a couple of weeks with the business “doing what the business does”, according to Harvey Nash’s Grimsey.
10. Keeping ahead of the game
Finally, IT workers need to keep on top of any new areas of development as work deploying or maintaining emerging technology systems can quickly be given to outsourcers, rather than inhouse staff.
“The skills that are hot right now are the skills that in three years time will possibly be outsourced again. We’re already seeing for instance there are offshore development centres in mobile application development,” Grimsey said.
By continuing to evolve and develop new skills, IT workers ensure they remain an important asset to their company.
“People who keep track of technologies and can always stay ahead of the crowd, are constantly investing in their own skillset and also experimenting and innovating, there will always be a demand for those people and that will never really be satisfied by using third parties or outsourcing.”