IT professionals need to take control of their own development and training if they are to survive the recession, recruitment experts said today.
Members of a roundtable discussion on skills said IT is better placed than many sectors to weather any coming storms. But they added that employees need to be able to demonstrate their value to the business to ensure they are not the first to go in a cull. As businesses look at cutting training budgets, it is likely to be up to employees to look for opportunities for more training or experience.
The impending recession is likely to accelerate trends already causing problems for some IT staff, such as off-shoring and the resultant shedding of junior jobs. Companies are not just cutting back on spending - they want to spend the money they do have more effectively. This is leading to more off-shoring, taking advantage of cheaper labour in other countries.
But more senior IT skills are still in demand in the UK, with demand for IT service management, business systems development and analysis skills all staying relatively steady. Demand for project management skills is increasing, despite a decline in the general IT recruitment market.
"People are realising project management skills are important," said Alan Rommel, managing director of recruitment at Parity, an IT solutions company. "They know good project management can improve the performance of the business."
But he warned job candidates and contractors do need to be flexible, both in the rates they will accept and the work they will take on. Staff already in jobs, who are worried the downturn might hit them, need to look at the gaps in their knowledge and see if they can improve it themselves.
"Anybody that can demonstrate improvements in efficiency internally, quick returns on investment, or provide a competitive edge, will be in demand," said Rommel. "People need to empower themselves to make that change."
Umaad Hussain, a recruitment specialist at analyst firm Forrester, said employers are looking for people with "commercial awareness". "We need people to have business acumen," he said.
John Cotterell, chief executive of software development company Endava, said IT staff in the UK would increasingly be required to gain management experience or qualifications as more lower-level jobs are offshored.
"During the recession, it is important to be consciously thinking about what you are going to do to make a difference to the business you are serving. People with that type of mindset do not lose their jobs," he said.
Hussain added that, while some will undoubtedly be affected, the IT industry is likely to see fewer casualties than some. "IT is a very robust, strong market. We are never really going to have lots of IT people being made redundant because we are still going to need those people."