Many hiring managers we spoke with voiced how difficult it is to find qualified candidates whose skills can support current implementations.

The reason: SAP America is selling software at a double-digit compounded percentage rate in North America, leading to a flood of upgrades and installations that require new or heightened SAP skills. This puts pressure on organisations to dredge an already shallow talent pool to find IT professionals who meet their needs.

The good news is: job seekers who keep their skills up to date can easily jump into these new roles. And as companies race to fill the positions, knowing when, where and how to build their skills can help IT pros edge out the competition and win jobs.

Understand the SAP life cycle

Essentially, there are three life-cycle steps organisations go through when implementing new SAP systems and doing upgrades: planning, building and maintaining.

In Stage 1, organisations need people with IT planning skills. Designing the system, planning the rollout and coordinating the different components so they work together effectively requires high-level technology architecture skills. As such, qualified job seekers have a deep knowledge of the new functionalities within the ERP, customer relationship management, product life-cycle management and storage resource management applications being planned.

Once the plan is designed, organisations need people with the skills to build, configure and test the system. In addition to strong SAP-related skills, project management experience can help set job seekers apart from the competition.

When the system is running, ongoing support or production roles are at a premium. These include professionals with strong system management skills, such as Basis and Solution Manager skills; ABAP developers fluent in Java; and XML, and Web-based programmers.

Depending on the complexity of the project, the life cycle will last anywhere from a few months to a couple of years. The cycle's length also determines the timing for hiring people with the various skills needed.

Companies then decide whether to fill talent needs internally or hire outside consultants. What they ultimately do often depends on the organisation's philosophy, though about 80% of organisations choose to outsource. In our experience, we often see companies bring in consultants because this work is normally project based and will ultimately have a completion date, whether it be in six months or six years. Additionally, it is much more cost effective for companies to bring in consultants than to hire full-time employees or pull internal resources from other ongoing projects.

Plug into the hot areas

IT professionals can put themselves in the right place at the right time by keeping their skills fresh and being aware of the market's hot areas. SAP continually upgrades its technology, creating new versions with a host of new features and functions that drive demand for new skills.

An upcoming trend is installed users upgrading to the NetWeaver platform while adding new functionality in the financial and human resource sectors, and using portal technology. Upgrades to the new ERP Central Component (ECC) Version 6.0 platform, for example, have generated demand for financial consultants who grasp new general ledger changes. If job seekers can also demonstrate compliance and regulatory expertise, such as a strong understanding of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, their resumes will easily crawl to the top of hiring managers' stacks.

New upgrades are also resulting in a search for human resources professionals who can expand the software to include performance management and learning features. With knowledge of ECC 6.0 and an understanding of the new general ledger features, job seekers make themselves more attractive to potential employers. As the human resources sector continues to move toward more self-serve applications, portal technologists and performance management consultants will also be in more demand.

NetWeaver experts need skills in Master Data Management (MDM), Exchange Infrastructure (XI) and the latest Business Information Warehouse (BW) version. Portal technology expertise is also critical for changing the old SAP user interface to a customised, user-friendly front end.

Stay current to grow

Job seekers can update their skills through SAP training sites, professional development courses, and seminars at annual conferences and user group meetings.

It's imperative that job seekers pay attention to new releases if they want a competitive edge. Typically, SAP releases its schedule of upgrades in advance, giving job seekers a heads up about the timing and structure of the next release.

Candidates should also become more active in the SAP ecosystem by regularly visiting related Web sites and signing up for user groups such as the Americas' SAP Users' Group. These groups conduct seminars and provide technology training to keep members aware of the next releases.

To illustrate: When SAP went from a client/server environment to a web application environment three years ago, it changed the technical skills needed to manage the system.

As such, the in-demand skills were web application services programming, Java and XML. Organisations without that talent in-house outsourced for it on a temporary basis. As a result, job seekers who had anticipated the changing SAP landscape and adapted accordingly quickly moved into these new roles and reaped the rewards of possessing extremely highly sought-after expertise.

In fact, consultants with the desired skills are at an advantage compared with full-time IT professionals. The reason: Organisations would rather hire outside their company to avoid more expensive internal training and hiring costs.

In any event, new implementations of SAP systems will continue to emerge, driving demand for IT talent with evolving skills. This means plenty of hiring opportunities for IT consultants who have up-to-date product knowledge and training, and the opportunity to jump-start a successful SAP consultant career.

Meli is the SAP practice director for Synch from Yoh. For more information, visit or