"IT professionals with the right technical skill set plus a foundational understanding of the business they work in will stand a much better chance in today's market," says Neill Hopkins, vice president of skills development at the Computer Technology Industry Association (CompTIA).
Business initiatives such as enterprise mobility, datacentre consolidation and unified communications are driving demand for expertise in new technology areas and reinforcing the importance of mastering the fundamentals such as networking and security, industry watchers say.
"Web 2.0, .Net, Java, wireless -- skills in technologies that enable end users to engage and communicate with each other -- are hot," says Rich Milgram, CEO of online job portal Beyond.com.
"At the same time network and security skills are becoming more and more important, especially as companies expose more and more of their networks and data to the world."
Here we examine (in no particular order) the current most-sought-after skills and those destined to be in demand going forward.
End users expect to be able to work from anywhere anytime, so skills in wireless and mobility are being pushed to the top of many hiring managers' must-have lists.
"Now you need to be able to plan and troubleshoot radio interference and access point placement. Everyone wants to work from anywhere," says Bruce Meyer, director of network services at ProMedica Healthcare in Toledo, Ohio. "Standards will continue to evolve rapidly as everyone chases the Holy Grail of a wirelike experience. I'm not just looking for wireless skills; I'm looking for the ability to rapidly learn new things."
According to CompTIA, wireless skills in many areas -- 802.11, WiMAX and broadband -- will only become more appealing to companies in the next five years.
John Estes, vice president of strategic alliances at Robert Half Technology, adds that mobility goes beyond knowing wireless technologies. It also requires knowing about each device end users might start using to tap the network. "End users have mini multimedia computers in their hands now. Someone is going to have to be involved in decisions around which devices best suit the environment and application needs," Estes says.
No longer just a tool for systems administrators to tinker with in testing environments, virtualisation technology is the main component behind datacentre consolidation and disaster recovery initiatives.
"Virtualisation is a hot technology area, which means managers are looking for people with some savvy there," says Steve Clifford, field recruiting director at staffing agency TAC Worldwide. "Many companies have a lot of redundant servers, and they are trying to maximise resources and utilisation on every server on every site."
And while server virtualisation is the current hot technology, industry watchers expect storage, network and desktop virtualisation to continue to drive demand for expertise in this technology area. EMA Research Director Andi Mann says desktop virtualisation will show the strongest growth of any virtualisation technology during the next one to two years.
Security as a must-have skill is a no-brainer.
A CompTIA skills survey released in February had security listed as the No. 1 skill among three-quarters of the 3,578 IT hiring managers polled. Foote Partners reports that security skills accounted for 17% of base pay in the fourth quarter of 2007, and pay for network security management skills increased by more than 27% in 2007.
But going forward, IT professionals will need to be able to incorporate their security savvy into network, wireless, application, operating system and other IT areas to best compete.
"Firewall, data leak, compliance -- you name it and it's in demand for security," says CompTIA's Hopkins. "In the networking field, you need to also be an expert at security, but going forward skills around how to train staff and employees to be security-aware will have to be developed."
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