The themes of the 2006 IT professional world could be summed up as the following: H-1B visas, certifications, a job market that either rocked or was awful; and the Baby Boomer-Generation Y gap in the workplace.
Not bad for a years work, eh?
eWEEK caught up with IT workforce experts and asked them what they had on their minds and dockets for the coming year.
Many of the issues sounded surprisingly familiar but all agreed that if there is one thing that couldnt be watched closely enough, it was the release of Microsofts Vista.
1. Vista, Vista, Vista
Ongoing questions surrounding Microsofts new operating system range from how quickly organizations will adopt it, what kinks they may run into in their transitions and how quickly IT professionals will be expected to have more than a basic understanding of the way the system works.
“What will this mean for corporate environments? What will the adoption rate be like? Will it be like XP, where it took nearly four years to pick up speed, or a lot sooner?” Jim Lanzalotto, vice president of strategy and marketing at Yoh Services, a provider of talent and outsourcing services based in Philadelphia, told eWEEK.
Scot Melland, president and CEO of Dice, a New York-based site for technology careers, felt that many of these questions will not be answered until later in the year.
“The impact of Vista may only be felt nearer to the end of 2007, as it could lead to a series of upgrades.”
But, beyond the immediate upgrade process and the secondary impact on networks, most feel it is too soon to tell the impact.
“There will also be second-order effects, such as the secondary impacts of changing operating systems. Nobody knows what the impact is going to be just yet, but if youre a tech pro or a CIO, this is something to be concerned about,” said Melland.
Lanzalotto notes that Vista will not be the only Microsoft release in 2007 that has the potential to change the landscape and daily rituals of the IT professional.
“The second new product that will be interesting to watch is Microsofts Duet, their SAP product which will integrate Outlook into ERP,” said Lanzalotto.
2. A Job Market on the Up
Nearly unanimously, IT experts saw good news on the tech job market horizon, with low unemployment rates among IT pros, strong hiring plans and multiple offers for candidates with the right mix of skills.
“In general, the job market for tech pros is going to continue to be an attractive one,” Melland said. “The market is very tight today. There is a 2 percent unemployment rate among IT professionals with still a lot of employment being created. If pros want to make a move, they can and will probably see some escalation of their salaries as well.”
John Venator, president and CEO of CompTIA (Computing Technology Industry Association), a non-profit IT trade association, said IT jobs are available if you know where to look.
“The perception that IT is a dead-end career continues to persist in many circles, but the perception is wrong,” said Venator. “Some industries are showing hiring plans for IT workers that are significantly higher than national averages.”
Venator said that these industries include finance, insurance and real estate, transportation, business services, and professional services.
Katharine Lee, executive director of Robert Half Technology, a provider of IT professional services in Menlo Park, Calif., sees a tightening candidate pool across IT.
“Candidates with the hottest skills are seeing multiple offers. This affects businesses in many ways: shorter hiring cycles, creative recruitment/retention strategies, bringing retirees out of retirement on a project basis, hiring contract workers, lobbying congress to loosen restrictions on foreign workers, etc.” Lee said.
Furthermore, the looming convergence of two demographic trends—the aging out of the Baby Boomer workforce as well as the shortage of U.S. students trained in math and computers—has the potential to create a “perfect storm,” said Venator.
Venator said that by 2010 nearly one in three U.S. workers will be over the age of 50. By 2012, more than 21 million new jobs are expected to be created in the U.S. economy.
Which skill sets are
In that time, however, just 17 million new workers will enter the labor pool, he said.
“Shortages of qualified workers are projected across many industries, including IT,” Venator said. “The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that demand for IT professionals will grow by nearly 50 percent by 2012, with more than 1.5 million new computer and IT-related job openings. But the U.S. will have only half that many qualified graduates due to the declining number of students enrolling in math and science courses.”
As for the potential of an economic downturn, hinted at by a recent surge in jobless claims as well as slowdown in the number of jobs added to the U.S. economy, most felt that although IT is not in the vulnerable position it was several years ago, it would still feel some effects.
“Even if we dont see a downturn economically, many IT professionals will be asked to do more with less and be asked to wear many hats on their project teams,” Sean Ebner, vice president at Spherion, a Fort Lauderdale, Fla., staffing and recruiting company.
3. Sustaining-Value Skill Sets
When asked which skill sets are in continued demand, IT hiring professionals had a range of answers but nearly all agreed that that project management skills and security know-how had the biggest draw from prospective employers.
“Its no secret that a high percentage of major technology initiatives frequently fail to reach their intended goals. More often than not, the problem isnt the technology, its the people,” Venator said.
“Project management skills can mean the difference between a project that is completed on time, on budget and generates expected returns; and one that spirals out of control, sucking up more money and time than intended and never delivering on what it promised.”
Melland puts his money on a blend of core technology skills coupled with specific, in-depth experience.
“Among hot skill sets, we expect a continuation of 2006, in which it was the core technology areas such as networking specialists, database managers and information architects that really needed staff. Employers are looking for people who dont just walk in with the skill but have the been there, done that,” said Melland.
As technologies evolve, a greater emphasis is seen by many on technologists with more specific skills.
“The things that came out in the late 90s and the early part of the 2000 are becoming more specific. Right now, financial services, pharmaceuticals and biotech and technology product development are the three core markets for technologists,” said Lazalotto.
4. Varying Certification Value
2006 was filled with reports of the devaluation of many IT professional certifications, a trend that does not appear to be abating in the coming year.
“Weve seen a drop in the last four years in the recognition of the value of certifications. Theres been a shift to where recruiters are looking for specific experience in specific areas,” said Melland.
However, many argue that certain, specific certifications will always remain marketable.
“Certifications in areas such as information storage, security, networking and project management are among those that are delivering the best return on investment, in the form of higher salaries,” Melland said.
Venator considers professional certifications a form of proof that an IT professional can do what their resume says they can.
“Five years ago it was far easier to find a good-paying IT job. Now people who want to be in IT need an edge, a means of proving they can do the tasks assigned. Professional certifications are a step toward that proof,” said Venator.
Furthermore, many hiring managers consider the right certifications the ideal self-marketing tool.
-1B still a hot button”>
“Unless the employer is familiar with the school the job candidate attended or the organizations that candidate may have previously worked for, he or she has no independent means of knowing how rigorous the program or experience is. When a job candidate comes to an employer with a degree and recognized and accepted professional certifications, it gives the employer more to go on,” Venator said.
5. H-1B Still a Hot Button
From accusations of discrimination to a demand so strong that a years supply was depleted in but two days, H-1B temporary work visas were contentious and fiercely-debated topic in 2006, and experts expect little change in 2007.
Melland said that there is an increasing amount of pressure by very large companies on Congress to raise the H-1B limits.
“The allotted visas for this fiscal year were filled in less than two days, which is a indication of how much U.S.-based companies are trying to grab talent from overseas. This trend is not going to change,” Melland said.
“While we cant predict what Congress is going to do, it is definitely the case that U.S. companies are feeling the pinch of not being about to bring in the specialized skills they used to be able to. Higher-end R&D is now largely off-shored, because many cant do the development over here anymore,” said Melland.
Yet, others viewed the H-1B visa program as declining in popularity.
Ebner said that the H-1B process is much more expensive than it was a few years ago and that he is not seeing as much of a resurgence there.
“I am seeing certain skill sets aggregated to some on-shore/off-shore consulting companies, but we have not needed to go the H1-B route to get talent, there is still enough talent to meet demand, though that pool is shrinking as organizations work to hire talented associates on a full-time basis rather than leverage their skills in a contract scenario,” Ebner said.
6. Business Integration
In the years since the dot-com boom then bust, there has been a push by IT professionals to get out of the dark rooms at the end of the hall and get involved in the business side of the organization.
“More than ever before, IT is integrated into all aspects of business. …CIOs are spending less time on damage control and more time on setting strategy for the companys future. With that elevated stature, however, comes greater expectations. Top executives are demanding greater results from their IT investments. IT is being run like a business, with performance measures and return-on-investment metrics,” said Venator.
Because of this, said Venator, the demand is high for managers who can bring projects in on time, at or under budget, and that deliver the promised benefits valued by the organization.
IT professionals will continue to see their positions move into more and more strategic roles in 2007, and the techies with the skills to support this broader role will find themselves with the most opportunities to choose from.
“More than ever, companies value employees who can think strategically and communicate effectively, as well as those who possess strong business fundamentals,” Venator said.
“IT workers who understand how to use technology to meet business goals, and who can articulate this understanding, are golden in the eyes of employers.”
Finally, IT is in many ways distancing itself from its techie roots—where working in IT meant speaking in “ones and zeroes” all day—and becoming both the backbone and framework that makes an organization run.
“There is a misperception that having a career in IT means working for an IT company. The reality is that better than 90 percent of IT jobs are with employers and industries other than IT,” said Venator.