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9 hot IT skills for 2012

Slowly but surely, many U.S. companies are loosening their viselike grips on IT hiring and looking to add new staffers to bolster business growth in the year ahead.

That trend is reflected in Computerworld's annual Forecast survey. Nearly 29% of the 353 IT executives polled said they plan to increase IT staffing through next summer. That's up from 23% in the 2010 survey and 20% in the 2009 survey. Altogether, it's a 45% increase in hiring expectations over the past two years.

Tiny Upticks

What changes, if any, do you expect in your IT employee head count in the next 12 months?

Increase: 29%

Decrease: 17%

Remain the same: 54%

Source: Computerworld's exclusive Forecast 2012 survey, June 2011. Base: 353 IT executives

"We're seeing [strong hiring] across the board," among organizations of all sizes, says Mike McBrierty, chief operations officer for the technology staffing division of Eliassen Group, an IT recruiting firm. He says there has been pent-up demand for infrastructure upgrades and investments that had been shelved over the previous three years.

The Forecast survey also revealed that IT managers may be thinking about innovation, not merely keeping the lights on, as they plan their staffs for 2012. Respondents said these nine skills will be in demand.

1. Programming and Application Development

• 61% plan to hire for this skill in the next 12 months, up from 44% in the 2010 survey.

This large year-over-year jump doesn't surprise people like John Reed, executive director of staffing firm Robert Half Technology, who sees demand for a variety of skills in areas ranging from website development to upgrading internal systems and meeting the needs of mobile users. "Web development continues to be very strong" as companies try to improve the user experience, he says, adding that there will also be a lot of effort to develop mobile technologies to improve customer access via smartphones.

Mobile application development is especially hot in healthcare, says Randy Bankes, associate director of IT at Lehigh Valley Health Network, a multicampus healthcare system in Allentown, Pa. Bankes says he's had a "god-awful hard time" trying to hire people with skills in mobile technologies. "It's competitive as hell right now," says Bankes.

Bill Predmore, director of enterprise application support at the Capital Metropolitan Transportation Authority in Austin, also sees growth in mobile technology, especially in the transportation industry. "There's more and more of a push to implement whiz-bang Web stuff, along with making trip planners, [bus and train] route data and schedule data presentable on mobile devices," he says.

2. Project Management

• 44% plan to hire for this skill in the next 12 months, up from 43% in the 2010 survey.

Big projects need managers, but they also need business analysts who can identify users' needs and translate them for the IT staffers who have to meet those needs and complete projects on time. "The demand has been more for business analysts than project managers," Reed says -- in other words, those who can help deliver projects rather than merely oversee and monitor them.

That's what Sean Masters discovered when he embarked on a job search in March. "When I was framing myself as a systems, network, security or other administrator role, I was hardly getting any attention," says the IT professional from Worcester, Mass. "As soon as I shifted my résumé to list those specific technologies used in accomplishing specific projects, I was suddenly framing myself as an engineer who could not only manage systems, but also plan, design and implement them."

3. Help Desk/Technical Support

• 35% plan to hire for this skill in the next 12 months, down from 43% in the 2010 survey.

As long as technology is used in the workplace, there will be a need for support staffers, be they internal or remote. And in organizations such as Lehigh Valley Health Network, help desk and tech support are points of entry for IT professionals and places to pick up the skills that can advance them into, say, a programming or systems analyst role, says Bankes.

But mobile operating systems "have added a new dimension to help desk and tech support," says David Foote, CEO of IT staffing consultancy Foote Partners. "There are so many operating systems now that the mobile platform, and especially tablets, have quickly shoved aside the old Windows/Mac OS PC desktop axis."

4. Networking

• 35% plan to hire for this skill in the next 12 months, down from 38% in the 2010 survey.

Robert Half's Reed says IT professionals with networking skills continue to be in high demand and have been "for a few quarters." That demand has been fueled, in part, by virtualization and cloud computing projects. In fact, during his recent job search, Masters says he saw heavy interest in virtualization skills.

Reed says hiring managers are looking for people with "practical work experience" in the networking arena, especially if they have worked in an organization that has migrated to a virtualized or cloud-based environment. In particular, they're looking for people with VMware and Citrix experience.

As for certifications, they're important but they're "not driving the market one way or the other," he says.

5. Business Intelligence

• 23% plan to hire for this skill in the next 12 months, up from 13% in the 2010 survey.

Eliassen Group's McBrierty says his firm is starting to see more demand for IT professionals skilled in BI. The uptick indicates a shift from focusing on cost savings to investing in technology that provides access to real-time data, enabling better business decisions.

That may happen at Lorillard Tobacco, says Dan Clark, manager of server and desktop technology. The $6 billion company is looking to expand its use of Microsoft's SharePoint collaboration software from about 175 users to more than 2,000, he says. "This will require additional head count to develop and administer," Clark says, adding that he's especially interested in SharePoint developers.

6. Data Center

• 18% plan to hire for this skill in the next 12 months, down from 21% in the 2010 survey.

Like networking, data center operations will be impacted by organizations' virtualization and cloud strategies. In particular, Reed says, hiring managers will be looking for IT professionals with backgrounds in data center operations and systems integration.

In addition, the demands of having data available to achieve guaranteed IT service levels underscore the need for people who are experts in disaster recovery and business continuity, according to Bob Cuneo, CIO at Eliassen Group. Companies need to ensure that the systems that users depend on will be there when they need them, and those systems need to be backed up and replicated, he says.

7. Web 2.0

• 18% plan to hire for this skill in the next 12 months, up from 17% in the 2010 survey.

Technical skills centered around social media remain in demand today, as more industries look for ways to integrate Web 2.0 technologies into their infrastructures, and Reed says he expects that demand to continue in 2012. He sees .Net, AJAX and PHP as key back-end skills, with HTML, XML, CSS, Flash and Javascript, among others, on the front end. "Organizations know they need to engage their customers via online platforms, and professionals who can support these initiatives will continue to command a premium in 2012," Reed says.

8. Security

• 17% plan to hire for this skill the next 12 months, down from 32% in the 2010 survey.

The one-year drop may be surprising given that information security threats are a moving target, but security is a top-level concern for many organizations, especially those that are considering cloud computing as part of their IT strategies, says Reed.

Corey Peissig, senior vice president of technical operations at Mortgagebot, a Web-based mortgage software provider, says security is a top priority at his company. "Strong technical security and auditing skills are in high demand in our business," he says. "The challenge is that good talent in this arena is sometimes difficult to find."

9 Telecommunications

• 9% plan to hire for this skill in the next 12 months, down from 17% in the 2010 survey.

"We have an aggressive agenda to upgrade communications systems," with a strong need for voice-over-IP help, says Laurie Connors, a human resources official who handles IT hiring at Partners HealthCare, a Boston-based healthcare organization that includes the renowned Massachusetts General Hospital.

That's why Partners will be looking for telecommunications expertise in the coming year. Foote says he sees demand for people with IP telephony skills, and for those familiar with Cisco IPCC call center systems.

Although there may be some concerns about the resiliency of the U.S. economy over the next year, the three-year trend in hiring plans highlighted in Computerworld's Forecast survey indicates that IT hiring budgets are expanding. "We're in a cycle now where it's more about innovation than cost savings," says Reed. "You can only create so much efficiency, [and] you can only reduce so much cost."


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