What’s hot and what’s not in today’s IT job market

If you're thinking about your next career step here are some of this year's hottest job skills

Thinking about your next career step? Well, one big trend that’s affecting certified and non-certified positions is that many large companies are getting around to deploying new technology again; something that had put on the back burner as they focused on complying with rules stemming from recent US legislation such as the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act and the Sarbanes-Oxley Act.

But now US IT departments are focusing more of their energy and money on creating new products and services, says David Foote, president and chief research officer at Foote Partners, an IT workforce research firm. This has created a backlog of projects that IT departments have to complete.

That’s one reason some hot IT jobs include application development, Foote says. According to his firm’s research, new IT deployments need employees with customer-facing skills that support new products, services and customer-support systems; infrastructure skills, in networking, wireless and security; and enabling skills, in project planning, management and open source.

One company, NPC International, the largest Pizza Hut franchisee in the United States, echoes Foote’s findings. Application development and infrastructure skills are at the top of its list of in-demand proficiencies.

“We have been converting most of our application development to Visual Studio. Now, with approximately 70% of our development in this environment, we have an ever-growing need for [Visual Studio] developers,” says Mike Woods, CIO at NPC in Pittsburg, Kansas.

Two other important areas of expertise are “problem-solving skills, such as second- and third-level support, and network engineering,” Woods says.

“We’re interested in IT staff with network engineering skills beyond a knowledge of routing tables,” he says.

Because these skills are technical, Foote says, employers are putting more effort into retaining employees who have them. Employers who haven’t thought about retention programmes may be suffering the loss of some top staff after other companies recruit them.

Retention is at the forefront of Woods’ mind as he scopes out the market for employees. He points out that location is a problem as well.

“It’s not that there aren’t a lot of people with the skills needed. It’s getting people to relocate from urban markets and then stay,” he says. NPC is 90 minutes outside Kansas City. “Longevity, for some, is staying at one job for 18 to 24 months. Most of our people have been here three to five years.”

Not only are people finally getting to projects that had been put off, but they’re also thinking about their businesses differently, says Paul Groce, partner and head of CIO placement at executive search firm Christian & Timbers.

“For years Microsoft was the company that other corporations aspired to be like. Today, companies aspire to be like Google,” he says.

“We’re in the return of the web and that’s driving IT,” Groce says. One example is the morphing of the call centre to contact centre, he says. If you’re an expert in managing a call centre you have probably already started thinking about new training to prolong your career. If you’re a project manager who can deal with the complexities of mapping out the migration to a contact centre, often based on VoIP, you’re in a better position.

Cost-cutting skills and regulatory-compliance expertise are less desirable this year than last, according to Foote Partners’ research. It’s not that employers don’t care about reducing expenses, but other skills — improving project-management disciplines and workforce productivity, for example — are more important. One could even argue that those two skills are, in effect, cost-cutting measures that allows employees to get more than they already have.

Experts also agree that employers are hot on vertical experience. It’s no longer enough to be a technical expert. “Experience in vertical industries with specific technologies” is in demand, Foote says. If you have experience in finance, you might have more job choices, Groce says. IT staffers whose backgrounds are in private banking, finance and retirement services are sought after.

“The American consumer is wealthier than ten years ago and, as baby boomers move into retirement, there is the need for more sophisticated tools to support these consumers,” he says.

The demand for storage-area network (SAN) skills is also is increasing, Groce says.

“Folks who were dealing with 1TB of information are now moving 4, 8, 20 or 30TB. There is the need to bring in technologists experienced in providing scalable solutions that provide full utilisation of mining and leveraging of that data.”