New rules for the new world of IT employment

In a relatively short amount of time, a new IT reality has emerged, and no one can escape it. Those who worked through the recession, professionals who are just entering the IT workforce after a period of unemployment and rookies who are searching for their first jobs are all subject to the rules of a new IT era.

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New jobs in the so-called jobless recovery

There has been a renaissance and redefinition of IT roles so pervasive that traditional job titles are becoming increasingly meaningless. With the unrelenting pace of change in both business models and technology, it's hard for both current and incoming IT workers to keep up with the skills necessary to succeed in these new positions. This is one of the reasons IT pros have been leaving the profession.

Highly specialized experience and skills

To get anywhere in IT these days, it's not enough to have a solid technical background, decent interpersonal skills and a respectable track record. Hiring managers want IT professionals with specific industry experience and an unblemished performance record. This is called risk management, and it's here to stay.

Compensation confusion

IT pay has traditionally been tied to job titles. However, traditional titles are rarely an accurate reflection of what many IT workers actually do. As a result, the practice of defining equitable pay has become a battlefield between employer and employee, much to the delight of executive recruiters.

Offshore outsourcing popularity

Offshore outsourcing has suppressed hiring and even compensation in the U.S. However, nearly 60% of offshoring initiatives are failing to measure up to expectations -- especially in the area of cost savings, according to a study published by Foote Partners last year. Still, offshoring is expected to continue its robust growth, evolving from a focus on cost savings to process improvements. While this may result in short-term job loss, it will also create lots of job opportunities for multilingual, well-traveled IT workers skilled in global project management, collaborative work models and cultural integration. Why? Because according to the same outsourcing study, offshoring disappointments are mainly caused by poor communication, organization, transition and project management.

Expanding government regulation

The influence of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act and other regulations on IT has been profound. Federal and state legislation will continue to shape fundamental changes in corporate operations and culture, with IT staffing and skills priorities right in the middle of the changes.

Mergers and acquisitions (M&As)

Integration challenges are immense where M&As are concerned. IT professionals can expect some small consolidation-driven layoffs, but more optimistically, M&As often create new opportunities for versatile IT workers with blends of technical, business and soft skills that are highly prized in architecting, systems engineering and integration, security, project management and business technology.

For those desiring to remain and advance in the IT field, here's some advice: Consider building your career on a progression of high-quality project assignments and involvement in important initiatives, rather than a career path that is structured around job titles.

A step sideways or even back in responsibility or authority may give you a broader perspective, more tools to work with and a better professional network upon which to build advancement. Remember that everything is in flux and the adaptable IT worker can be just as opportunistic as the niche specialist.

Foote Partners' trend research indicates that right now information security, networking, storage, IP telephony, messaging, open source -- and a variety of Web services-related skills are where the greatest number of new opportunities exist.

Identify and align yourself as much as possible inside the protective walls that IT executives are building around selected infrastructure initiatives, to insulate them from zealous CFOs willing to offshore just about anything that will save money. The debate -- and the IT executives' biggest fear -- is around risk, and you should be on the risk-averse side on matters of internal resources and staffing.

David Foote is president and chief research officer of Foote Partners LLC, a management consultancy and IT workforce research firm in New Canaan, Conn. A former Gartner Inc. and Meta Group analyst and consultant, he has advised leading corporations and governments worldwide on information age management solutions for more than 20 years. Contact him at dfoote@footepartners.com.

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