There's no doubt the recession had a negative effect of employment, across all industries, including IT.

However, after months of staff cuts or hiring freezes, many companies are planning to start hiring again, and those that will be successful in grabbing the positions, will be IT employees with highly valued skills.

According to research by PC Advisor's sister title, Computerworld, nearly a quarter (23 percent) of IT firms plan to increase staff size in the next 12 months, that's a slightly increase on last year's figure of 20 percent.

"We're talking about hiring. It's happening now," says Dave Willmer, executive director of IT staffing services firm Robert Half Technology.

"Companies that cut staff or implemented hiring freezes are realising they need employees now to help upgrade IT systems and prepare their firms for potential growth."

What's more, IT managers are taking the opportunity to mould their departments into profit-making business units. We look at the 11 must-have skills that will guarantee to give you an edge over other candidates.

1. Programming and application development

About 47 percent of the Computerworld survey respondents who said they plan to hire IT professionals in the next year will be looking for people with programming or application development skills. Online recruitment firm Monster also reports that three quarters of the 245 HR managers and recruiters it surveyed in May plan to hire IT staffers with applications expertise by the end of this year.

"Those skills are separate from enterprise business applications," says David Foote, CEO and chief research officer at Foote Partners LLC.

In this volatile market, companies need to quickly reposition, as well as use IT to grow the business through new products and innovation.

So "RAD, rapid programming and agile programming seem to be coming back. Companies are starting to increase some of their pay [in these areas], which means they're looking for more capabilities in their companies," he says.

2. Project management

Kathleen Kay has put project managers at the top of her 2011 hiring list at Comerica Bank. With some 140 IT projects on the schedule, she will need people to oversee web and mobile initiatives, a treasury management product rollout and a legacy applications refresh, among other efforts.

The US bank will fill those needs by hiring new people and retraining existing employees.

"We are very passionate about investing in our people and making sure they stay up to speed on skills with emerging technologies," says Kay, senior vice president of business technology services.

People with project management skills will be sought by 43 percent of Computerworld's survey respondents who plan to make new hires, and by more than half of those polled by

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IT hiring will pick up slightly next year, and talented programmers and project managers will be at the starting line. We look at the skills you need to ensure you have the edge over other candidates.

3. Help desk/technical support

Only 20 percent of Microsoft customers had converted to Windows 7 as of July 2010.

"That leaves 80 percent. They have to move over. It's not a matter of choice," Willmer says. That may be one reason why help desk and technical support skills will be high-priority in 2011 for those that are hiring staff.

What's more, major conversions require a lot of help desk support for users. "These aren't just people doing password resets. They're probably technically savvy as well as having that health care background," Willmer adds.

4. Networking

Networking skills are in demand among 38 percent of Computerworld survey respondents who said they're hiring. And those jobs were identified as the most challenging to fill in a Robert Half Technology survey of 1,400 CIOs.

"Networking is closely tied to virtualisation," says Willmer.

"Finding somebody with that virtualisation experience and the ability to convert non-virtual environments into virtual environments is one of the biggest problems."

5. Security

"Security is the only area of certified IT skills that has never had a negative quarter throughout this entire recession," Foote says.

"We've never had a three-month period with a loss or decline in premiums for these people."

Demand is being driven by regulatory compliance needs and by customer demand for tools with built-in security features.

Valuable security skills include expertise in identity and access management, threat and vulnerability assessment, encryption, data loss prevention, incident analysis, governance, compliance and auditing, biometrics, web content filtering, safeguards for voice-over-IP systems and e-discovery support for litigation.

6. Data Center

More than two in five of the firm that will be hiring in the next year said that data center skills, including storage experience, will be in top demand.

"Storage is becoming more important as we go to network-attached storage [and storage-area networks]," says Suzanne Gordon, CIO at SAS Institute Inc.

Finding people with expertise in particular storage areas is important, she says, "but they should also be able to step back and look at it strategically: Are we putting the right things in the right places, and spending the right amount of money for safety and backup of the different types of data?"

7. Web 2.0

IT workers with next-generation web skills will also be sought-after in 2011, according to 17 percent of those intending to hire in the coming year. Hot Web 2.0 skills include expertise in Adobe Flex, JavaScript, Adobe Flash, AJAX and JavaScript Object Notation.

In the financial services industry, for example, "Web and mobile products are huge," says Comerica's Kay.

"We have several projects ongoing that are geared around proving further web and mobile functionality."

NEXT PAGE: Telecommunications

  1. Get the edge over other candidates
  2. Helpdesk/technical support
  3. Telecommunications

IT hiring will pick up slightly next year, and talented programmers and project managers will be at the starting line. We look at the skills you need to ensure you have the edge over other candidates.

8. Telecommunications

At Palmetto Health, Michelle Edwards wants to hire staff with skills in unified communications. The health care provider is seeking people who can design an infrastructure and integrate various communications tools, including instant messaging, IP phones and remote access.

"In a hospital, you have urgent needs for patient care, on-call needs and remote needs. We want to make sure we understand all those needs," as well as the security issues around those communications devices, says Edwards, senior vice president and CIO.

Some 16 percent of Computerworld's survey-takers who plan to hire said they will be looking for telecommunications skills into 2011.

9. Business intelligence

As data proliferates and IT departments look for ways to contribute to the company's profitability, business intelligence skills will be highly sought-after in 2011, according to 13 percent of survey respondents.

10. Collaboration architecture

Collaboration architecture expertise is high on Campbell Soup's list of hot skills, says Donna Braunschweig, senior director of IT, enterprise portfolio and strategy. The company constantly looks at "how we can help the end-user experience be better by understanding how things like portals, web and audio can integrate, and what does that need to look like to be able to have better collaboration across the company?" she says.

While most of Campbell's collaboration tools are hosted offerings from service providers, Braunschweig says she still needs employees who can manage those vendors and understand the technology.

11. Business acumen and communication skills

You won't find this in any IT job titles, but most companies in 2011 will seek IT employees who understand the business and can communicate technical concepts to business units and customers.

Campbell requires IT employees to have four types of competencies: business and financial acumen, functional depth, leadership skills and a global mind-set. "Sometimes people think of IT as just technical skills, and it's not," Braunschweig says.

At HealthAlliance, Thompson recruits IT staffers who can communicate well both orally and in writing.

"I also want to have a reference of someone who knows how you speak about IT issues to people who are not computer-savvy," she adds.

Overall, the outlook for 2011 remains volatile, and IT groups will need workers whose skills can help them adapt to rapidly changing market conditions. But as IT units move from a support role to a profitability model, "now they are able to move more quickly," Foote says. "I don't think the [IT] world is ever going to return to what it was in 2008, but it's a very positive thing."

See also: 6 IT skills you'll need this year

  1. Get the edge over other candidates
  2. Helpdesk/technical support
  3. Telecommunications