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Technology skills demand accelerates outside the IT department

The IT department will increasingly compete with other business areas for candidates with technology skills, a major research programme reveals

Marketing, sales, finance and other areas of business are competing with the IT department for recruits with technology skills at an accelerating pace.

Between 2012 and 2016, there will be a 60% increase in the number of vacancies for employees with technology skills outside of the IT department, according to a major study by business leadership group CEB.

An analysis of tens of millions of job descriptions posted on the web suggests there will be four times as many roles for people with data analytic skills outside the IT department, twice as many roles for people with specialist software skills, and an equal number of jobs requiring skills to manage technology suppliers within two years.

“More technology hiring is outside IT. We have talked about spending on technology outside of IT, the parallel trend is other groups highlighting technology skills in their job descriptions. In some cases, this means dedicated technology jobs,” said Andrew Horne, IT practice leader at CEB.

The trend give CIOs a larger company-wide pool of talent to recruit from, but it will also present a challenge as they compete for skilled people with other areas of the business.

CIOs are responding to the increasing demand for digital technologies by hiring IT professionals with a wider range of technical skills.

This does not necessarily mean people who can manage infrastructure and also write code, said Horne, but it does mean hiring developers capable of writing programmes in several different programming languages.

IT departments are also looking for people with more business skills, particularly influencing skills, and the ability to manage relationships.

CEB’s analysis found a 92% increase between 2012 and 2014 in the number of IT departments asking for candidates with influencing skills, and a 30% increase for candidates focused on business results and team work.

These skills are often hard to find in the IT workforce, said Horne. “When we looked at IT employees, just more than half are proficient at influencing and only 33% are proficient at teamwork. If you have three people on a team, only one is good at being on a team,” he said.

Soft skills can be taught – even to IT staff

However, even though soft skills are not innate, they can be learned if IT departments put the right programmes in place, according to CEB’s research.

Horne said CIOs should make sure their IT strategies contain a workforce development plan that will give IT professionals the opportunity to gain a broader set of business skills.

“As companies are flatter, careers are now more experience-based. It’s not junior developer or senior developer any more,” he said. “You have career paths that take you in more circuitous ways. These people can develop more cross-functional skills.”

One large consumer goods company, for example, has created career accelerator programmes, which gives employees the opportunity to work on cross-functional projects, with a supplier or in other areas of the business. The company found it was able to hold on to valued staff for longer.

As other business units outside of IT hire more people with IT skills, there will naturally be more cross-pollination of softer skills from other parts of the business to IT, said Horne.

“This is a very exciting time to be an IT professional and an IT leader. A lot of opportunities are opening up. If your career path was to be an IT professional for life, digitisation opens up a lot of new ways to take your career.”

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