IT Workers Battle to Keep Skills Current

The need to constantly update their technical skills keeps IT workers under tremendous stress, a new study finds.

That workers often feel stressed and harried while on the job is nothing new.

Mounting workloads, hurried paces and at times colliding demands on employees times are typical expectations of the workplace today.

However, IT workers claim they have it worse, reporting that they are in a constant state of "running races to keep up" and in a "constant battle to learn new IT skills," according to a Canadian graduate business school study released on Aug. 29.

Furthermore, the study concludes that the reality for IT pros is even more intense because their skills are continually depleted while non-IT workers see their skills accumulate over time

"Simply possessing information technology is an insufficient condition for achieving the tangible outcomes in which shareholders are interested, such as improving the bottom line. An organization may be committed to deploying the latest IT but will harvest little from its investment if the potential of the technology is not fully understood and realized," wrote authors Hsing-Yi Tsai, Deborah Compeau and Nicole Haggerty in "Of Races to Run and Battles to be Won: Technical Skill Updating, Stress and Coping of IT Professionals."

"IT professionals play a crucial role in achieving these advantages because they develop and exploit information technology to extract value by delivering the right technological solution to business problems."

The IT professionals who handled this stress the best used a balance of problem-focused and emotion-focused coping strategies to deal with the stress of staying perpetually up-to-date in their technical skills, found the study by the London, Ontario Richard Ivey School of Business.


Click here to read more about why many IT workers get ready to change jobs in the fall.

The problem-focused coping strategies utilized by IT pros were direct action, or thinking about solutions to a problem, gathering information and then trying to solve it, and seeking social support by exerting a conscious effort to find advice, assistance or information.

The emotion-focused coping strategies studied among IT pros were redefining situations to put them in a more bearable light, accepting that a problem had occurred but little could be done about it and distracting themselves by diverting their attention away from a problem to slow down their reactions to it.

Though not all IT pros viewed a requirement to continually re-skill themselves as a threat, many did. IT managers were encouraged to help their staff manage stress by providing concrete resources such as research time, opportunities to attend courses and physical facilities that encouraged trial and error.

They were also encouraged to watch their language. Skills updates framed as "theme parks" would be met more positively than "boot camps," the report explains.

Finally, optimism and hopefulness were considered critical personality traits in IT roles, something managers might look for when recruiting.

"The (in)ability to learn and adapt to changes quickly is thus critical for the career of an IT professional. The demand to constantly update their technical skills seems to be taking its toll on the IT workforce; turnover rates for IT workers in the US rose to 10.2% in 2001 from 8% in 2000. One major factor contributing to the turnover of IT professionals is the work exhaustion triggered by constant changes in technology," wrote authors Tsai, Compeau and Haggerty.


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