Times are tough and likely to get tougher, writes Karen Price, CEO of e-skills UK. As the global economic downturn takes effect, there are signs the UK's IT industry - like many others - is in for a bumpy ride. UK-based technology companies have announced job cuts and our research indicates a fall in advertised demand for IT professionals since the spring, after several years of steady growth. This decline is evident across most job roles and at most levels.
Is it time for IT professionals to start worrying about their future? Not necessarily. Technology plays an important role in helping companies survive downturns: boosting productivity, enhancing customer service and driving efficiency. There also seems to be a general recognition that technology innovation can and must continue and improved use of technology will help to steer the UK and other countries out of recession. Making all this happen requires talented and experienced IT professionals.
There are no recession-proof guarantees for people concerned about their jobs. A good place to start, whether you are looking for career progression or job security, is in making sure you have up-to-date skills and experience in areas valued by employers.
So what are these skills? Perhaps surprisingly, according to employers, technical skills are only part of the story.
Employers are generally looking for business-focused technology professionals. People who understand the company and the client, can work with others, communicate clearly, be creative, solve problems, make decisions and manage projects. In the often unpredictable and rapidly changing environment of a downturn, looking after customers and managing operational stability become even more important. IT professionals who have the skills and business acumen to help with this will have a head start.
That is not to say that technical skills don't matter. They do. It's just that, by themselves, they are often not enough any more. Employers want to know that you can use your technical knowledge to solve their real business problems.
Our research shows a steady growth in demand for test analysts, web authors, editors and content administrators, senior programmers, systems auditors, technical support managers and systems administrators. Knowledge and skills in new technologies such as Web 2.0, which drives social media, should hold up well as companies make increased use of internet-based technologies to stay close to their customers.
Whatever your skills and competence, it is vital your employer or potential employer understands clearly what you can actually do. Know your worth: assess your skills against the industry standards and frameworks so you understand where you fit in and what you have to offer. Opt for accredited learning whenever you can, but remember that all learning counts, including that acquired on the job or through informal training.
IT is an industry of change. It always has been. That is what makes it such a vibrant and exciting sector to work in and why many of us chose it in the first place. To thrive in this environment, particularly when times are volatile, it helps to be able to change and grow along with it. Continuous skills development should be second nature to us all. If it isn't already, now is a good time to start.
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This was first published in January 2009