Be future-proof with a broader set of skills

IT professionals will need a more sophisticated, business-focused skillset to meet changing demands, with integration, mobile IT and security expertise at a premium, says Karen Price

IT professionals will need a more sophisticated, business-focused skillset to meet changing demands, with integration, mobile IT and security expertise at a premium, says Karen Price

An E-Skills UK survey of more than 1,000 employers found that nearly three-quarters of IT jobs advertised were new roles. Two-thirds of these vacancies were the result of business expansion.

These figures suggest a vibrant job market for IT professionals. Yet the same survey also found that at least one-tenth of these companies were having difficulties recruiting IT staff with the required skills and experience.

E-Skills UK and Gartner have undertaken a review of the UK's IT skills landscape to evaluate what skills and experience employers are looking for. This work reveals the trends likely to affect the IT workforce over the next five years and beyond, and the implications for skills.

The key trends identified include the increasing globalisation of business – with outsourcing and geosourcing having a growing impact on the profile of the IT profession in the UK; increasing technology standardisation; the implementation of new channel strategies; remote and collaborative working; and an increasing focus on privacy and security.

In addition, the research highlights how technology is becoming fully integrated into business operations. IT professionals need to be able to understand and communicate the business benefits of IT, to develop IT strategy within the context of business needs, and to support the company through IT-enabled change.

All this demands a broad and sophisticated skillset covering both technical and business skills. The boundaries between an IT manager and a business manager are becoming less distinct. IT professionals can find themselves embedded within business units, and business managers can find themselves managing IT departments. This has far-reaching implications for the structure of IT departments within companies and the career paths open to individual IT professionals.

In terms of the technical skills required, the increasing standardisation of technology means that most companies are building complex technology systems using existing software components and pre-packed solutions. For IT professionals, this means acquiring and continuously updating their knowledge of leading software packages, combined with higher-level skills in the understanding, design and implementation of system integration and IT architecture.

The introduction of wireless and web-based technologies to support mobile working and new channels to market is driving demand for sophisticated security systems to protect information and the corporate IT infrastructure. The ability to design and implement innovative security systems will be increasingly in demand. A sound understanding of how to integrate the latest communications technologies into business operations will also become essential.

The trend towards geosourcing and outsourcing means that many technical roles are being located externally or overseas. The UK has a great opportunity to establish its place in the global IT market by developing unique, value-added skills and services in such areas as product development, business process outsourcing, global project management and consultancy.

And as IT becomes more of an outsourced, utility-style service, the introduction of highly automated infrastructures will reduce the need for manual procedures and direct involvement of the in-house IT workforce. IT professionals will need to move their skills further up the value chain, strengthening their business and IT skills with specialised knowledge of their organisation’s business models and processes.

The role of the IT professional is changing. Whether working within the IT industry or in an IT role in another sector, IT professionals need to complement advanced technical knowledge with the business, communication and team-working skills that enable them to operate effectively at the heart of the business.

About 80% of IT professionals employed in 2005 will still be part of the workforce in 2012. It is vital that the IT workforce is encouraged and able to develop and enhance their skills throughout their career. At the same time, employers need to work together with education and government to ensure that young people acquire the IT-related skills and knowledge that meet future business needs and helps them to achieve their career aspirations.

Karen Price is chief executive of sector skills council E-Skills UK

What IT skills will be in demand in future?

Claire Hamon, director of business information systems, Crown Prosecution Service, says, “IT professionals of the future must focus their time and energies on value-adding responsibilities, developing skills in softer issues such as business change management, people management and effective communication.

"IT leaders are viewed increasingly as business executives responsible for playing a major part in shaping and driving company goals.”

Ian Smith, senior vice-president, Oracle UK, says, “The global economy and technology have changed our understanding of career paths. Specialist skills can be sourced from around the world, so our workforce cannot simply rely on technical knowledge to remain attractive to employers.

"IT professionals need to demonstrate they can manage and inspire global virtual teams, because it is key to competitive advantage. This requires excellent communication skills, a strong business sense and leadership skill.

"The priority now is not just who has the best technical skills, but who understands my business and can apply technology expertise to benefit my customers and company.”

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