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As the COVID-19 pandemic has revealed, IT has never played a more integral role than over the past few months helping companies transition their staff to working remotely. Now IT hiring is on the rise to support a work-from-home plan for the rest of 2020, said Paul Wallenberg, director of technology services at LaSalle Network, a national IT staffing, recruiting, and culture firm.

The greatest demand for tech staff right now is in cybersecurity and general IT support and systems administration, the latter being responsible for supporting and maintaining systems so remote users have full access to their companies’ networks, Wallenberg said.

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In terms of specific verticals, “the biggest uptick has been in essential businesses like logistics and companies that serve our food supply chains and consumer packaged goods,” he said. “Early on, there was a surge in financial services,” especially IT staff who provided access between systems that connect to market data feeds and trading exchanges, which Wallenberg said weren’t capable of being fully virtual.

Virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) “had to be deployed very rapidly to enable financial professionals to continue their normal day-to-day operations,” he said. “So there was a big uptick in system administration and support professionals with remote connectivity and VDI implementation [experience] across VMware and Citrix and common virtualization technologies.”

An emphasis on hiring more diverse staff

At the beginning of the pandemic, all the hiring of IT staff was on the temporary and contract side, Wallenberg said. “I will say, over the last four weeks we’ve seen a significant uptick in permanent hiring” mainly for security and systems admin professionals.

As companies are interviewing candidates, there is also an emphasis on diversifying their tech hires, he said.

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“Diversity and inclusion initiatives even before the pandemic were topical, and they’ve remained topical and become even more significant, and not just from the companies themselves, but there is also a demand by job seekers,” Wallenberg noted. “They want to know on the front end what diversity and inclusion initiatives are already in place–or as result of some of the cries for social justice–what will be pursued in the near term.”

While there is still an emphasis on hiring the best candidate available, companies want to do that “from a diverse talent pool,” and they are receptive to implementing new initiatives, he said.

The necessary technologies and skills to stay remote

Zoom, WebEx, and Teams remain among the most predominant technologies companies need to ensure a successful work-from-home model for the rest of 2020, Wallenberg said. Companies are also interested in business software suites like Microsoft 365 and G Suite by Google.

“If you haven’t gone to either of those, you’re going to have to make some pretty significant strides over the next six months to make remote work seem as close to in-office work as possible,” he said. So demand is strong for IT people who have experience in three buckets: Teleconferencing apps, cloud-native apps, and networking software that allows for reliable VPN connectivity, Wallenberg said.

Additionally, “the emphasis on soft skills is more important than ever before: organizational skills, customer service; things are so different for people when they talk to IT,” he noted. “They need to feel comforted more than ever because of the challenges inherent in not working next to a coworker … so that ability to manage conflict rationally and the ability to calm people if there are high-stress situations is crucial.”

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Companies want people who are good communicators and who will be proactive–for example, quickly addressing a support ticket that comes in in the morning, so users don’t have to wait, Wallenberg added.

In terms of security hiring trends, “there have always been really brilliant people who can sell the need for security to the business,” and that is needed now more than ever in IT, he said. “In a perfect world, it shouldn’t have taken high-profile breaches of personal and identifiable information for companies to wake up and say we need to invest more money in it. So security leadership and, further down the pole, they have to sell their vision on steps they need to take to more systematically ensure systems are safe and companies are protected from threats.”

Because of the current climate, it is also critical that companies are prepared to handle remote onboarding of new tech team members, Wallenberg said.

“Companies that adopted a cloud-first strategy years ago are in a much better position to onboard [new staff] than people who need an office network to connect,” he said. In the former scenario, hiring is just a matter of making sure all hires can be provisioned quickly and then deciding whether they are going to have a BYOD approach or if they’ll need to ship a laptop and phone, according to Wallenberg.

“Obviously, in that case you need to have the process scripted,” he said. “It’s a little more tricky with companies that don’t have all their apps and services in the cloud.” In that case, “hopefully, by now, most companies have expanded those capacities for people to access resources via a VPN.”