Outsourcing IT career progression

Emphasis on training and the chance to work on diverse contracts makes outsourcing suppliers attractive employers, but flexibility and business focus are vital

Flexibility and a strong commercial perspective are the key attributes for IT professionals looking for work with outsourcing suppliers, according to recruiters.

"You need an adaptable personality to work for an outsourcing supplier because you have to fit in with clients' corporate cultures as well as your employer's culture," said Yvonne Emmerson-Peirce, individual training director at the National Outsourcing Association. "But working for an outsourcing supplier gives you a chance to gain experience in lots of different industries."

You also have to be prepared to be taken out of your comfort zone on a regular basis. "It is all about delivering within a specified timeframe, so an outsourcing supplier will be more likely to ask you to be flexible in the work you do and where you do it than if you are working in-house," said Rob Villa-Coleman, recruitment consultant at Eurobase International.

Commercial aptitude is essential because you are always representing the business, acting as a consultant, and selling the company's services. "You not only have to solve the problem you are working on, you are constantly looking at how the outsourcing supplier might add value and gain additional revenue outside the current contract," said Villa-Coleman.

Simon Pettit, product director at recruitment firm Computer People, said, "Working for an outsourcing supplier you are likely to be more focused on key performance indicators, because you are part of a revenue-generating business with penalties for non-delivery that are not normally placed on staff in a ­directly-employed role."

The upside, according to Emmerson-Peirce, is that personal rewards are often geared heavily towards performance, so bonuses can be ­significant.

In fact, outsourcing suppliers generally offer good benefits packages, including training for permanent employees. Although companies want to hire staff with the skills to hit the ground running in client sites, Pettit said they recognise that training is a key way to retain talented employees in a competitive recruitment market.

He added that companies were increasingly addressing some of the downsides of working for an outsourcing supplier, such as the strain of moving to different client sites, by creating shared service centres as a base for consultants.

"In the old days, staff had to be on site because clients wanted to see the bodies they were paying for," he said Pettit. "New technology means there is less of a need to be on site to get the job done."

The range of skills outsourcing suppliers are recruiting is changing too. UK-based firms are taking on fewer staff in support, helpdesk and infrastructure roles, said Pettit.

"A lot of that work is being outsourced to nearshore and offshore providers. However, demand for application development, project management and senior business analysts is still strong," he said.

Villa-Coleman said enterprise resource planning and SAP skills were always in demand, as were business intelligence and management information specialists. He added that user companies frequently hire outsourcing suppliers to provide niche skills that are difficult to recruit directly, or to support legacy systems as in-house staff implement new applications.

So working for an outsourcing supplier could be a smart move for contractors with legacy skills, or for permanent employees with legacy skills who are looking to reskill.

Case study: moving out of the comfort zone to progress at capgemini

Working for an outsourcing supplier is not for the faint-hearted, said Eddie Ginja, information and development services manager at Aspire, the Capgemini unit that delivers IT for HM Revenue & Customs.

"You have to be willing to get out of your comfort zone if you want to progress, but you do get lots of opportunity to advance your career in many different ways," he said. "You have to enjoy a certain amount of travel, being in new places and seeing new things, but there is a great variety of work, and a chance to broaden your horizons and skillset."

Ginja manages the provision of all the supporting technology for staff working on Aspire - from laptops, PCs, networks and telephones to e-mail and desktop applications - yet he joined Capgemini in 1997 as a Cobol, Cics and DB2 mainframe programmer.

Ginja's initial focus was on millennium bug work, followed by supporting the transition to the euro. He then moved into Capgemini's Network Infrastructure Services department, initially in sales support. "There I learnt about how networks work, how PCs and servers interact with the network and so on," he said.

The emphasis on development and training has been one of the benefits of working for an outsourcing supplier, and Ginja has completed numerous management and technical courses. "One of the good things about Capgemini is that it is not all about IT or technical skills. Soft skills are equally important," he said.

"I have worked all over the world and had spells as a contractor, a consultant and running my own business. A permanent role with an outsourcer has given me more stability to settle down, but it still gives me the opportunity to move into different roles."

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