Hot skills, cool jobs for 2010

IT staff who know the business and can optimise workplace technology will leap ahead

Demand for IT professionals has grown in the last quarter. Our guide to the jobs that are in demand, what they pay, and the skills you need to get them.

Last August, a joint survey between Sapphire Technologies Canada and IBM Corp. on Canadian IT hiring practices found 38 per cent of respondents planned to increase their IT hiring over the next 18 months.

The upswing was anticipated to begin in Q4 and continue into 2010, explained Sergio Mateus, president of Toronto, Ont.-based Sapphire Technologies Canada, a division of Randstad Interim Inc. "We are actually seeing that," he said.

Sapphire Canada has noticed an increase in demand for IT skills over the last quarter and a half, according to Mateus, with substantial increases in the acquisition of architects, project managers and network analysts and administrators.

Resurging marketplace

These "hot jobs" are indicative of a lot of start-up activity within IT shops, he noted. "The general theme for the year would be a resurging marketplace where lots and lots of projects are going to start taking off," said Mateus.

Architects, project managers and network analysts and administrators are traditionally hired at the beginning of a systems development lifecycle, explained Mark Stevenson, vice-president of resourcing at Sapphire Canada.

As far as experience required, hands-on is always the best, he said. Training is offered at both the university and college level, but going through a certification process offered by a vendor is often the best route, according to Stevenson.

If an employer has a choice between someone with training at a private institution versus accreditation from the actual vendor or supplier of that product, they will prefer the latter, said Stevenson. "It has an additional credibility to it," he said.

Salaries have remained relatively flat compared to where they were 18 months ago, which is fairly typical of the market given the state of the economy, said Stevenson. "Usually, you don't see any variances in salary until demand is outstripping supply of people," he said.

Mateus expects this will start to change in 2010. Customers are seeing IT as a strong catalyst for corporate growth and strategic differentiation and a resurging marketplace, he said. "As these projects are taking off, we will see the salaries once again taking off along with the demand," he said.

Hot jobs in 2010, according to Jennifer Perrier-Knox, senior research analyst at Info-Tech Research Group Ltd., include business analysts, Web 2.0 developers, and systems and application integrators.

These positions build on current trends, such as the outsourcing of commodity technical skills, a continued focus on strong business skills and an increase in merger and acquisition activity, she explained.

Soft skills

"While the tech skills are really important, the ability to understand the business in the industry is continuing to increase in importance and skills around communication, strategy, cultivating business relationship and project management are still sticking in there," she said.

Cloud computing and virtualization skill sets are also important, she noted, but tend to get buried in system administration, network administration or systems engineering roles. Titles like "server virtualization specialist" aren't popping up yet, she said. "It's a skill, but it's usually not a stand-alone role."

But virtualization is huge, Perrier-Knox pointed out. She suggests going through traditional systems and networking certification processes, such as those offered by providers like Microsoft Corp. and Cisco Systems Inc., to add this skill set to your repertoire.

The mystery position for 2010 is the help desk analyst, according to Perrier-Knox. While she hopes to see an uptake in these roles, she isn't sure whether 2010 will bring one. "It's historically undervalued," she said.

Optimization

Clients say they are going to focus on help desk optimization, recognize the value of the help desk in terms of acting as the face of IT to the rest of the organization and see the need to make an investment in the space, but "whether they do or not is still a little bit of a question," she said.

Igor Abramovitch, director of technology services for Robert Half Technology, owned by Robert Half International Inc., sees opportunities rising in networking and infrastructure as well as application development and business analysis.

The hottest jobs will include networking administrators, systems analysts, systems administrators, help desk analysts, business intelligence analysts, data analysts/report writers and Web developers, according to Abramovitch.

Abramovitch advises IT professionals to pick up new skills on the job. If your company is implementing a new project, make sure you are somehow involved in order to pick up the related skills, he said. "It would be more beneficial than going out and taking a course without actually having the experience implanting it," he said.

IT pros can also gain new skill sets through contractors brought into their companies, he pointed out. "As companies go through implementations, they tend to bring in subject matter experts for short periods of time ... as the implementation happens, the actual internal staff of the company would be trained on the products," he said.

Demand for networking and infrastructure positions stems from the economic downturn, during which companies turn back to their infrastructure and look for ways to remain competitive in the market, analyze their operational procedures and see if anything needs to be upgraded, he explained.

"All the underlying technologies and infrastructure has to be set up and that's where the demand will stem from -- guys like network administrators and systems analysts who know the tools and can set them up," said Abramovitch.

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Jennifer Kavur

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