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Home  > Article

IT Job Growth Seen Through 2016

By Mathew Schwartz
Dice.com

Despite the increase in outsourcing, government figures point toward robust job growth for many technology occupations.

Good news: Demand for many IT skills will increase well into the next decade. In fact, according to the latest figures from the Department of Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics, many IT occupations will be at the leading edge of job growth - in terms of both demand for specific occupations, as well as sheer job volume - for at least a decade.

The BLS study, which comes in the form of its Occupational Outlook Handbook, is "the market standard in job projections," says Dr. Ray Panko, professor of IT management at the University of Hawaii Shidler College of Business. The latest report, covering 2006 - 2016, is especially interesting because it's the first BLS study which "fully reflects the dot-com bust and recovery, and takes offshoring into account," Panko says. Even after accounting for those factors, "the BLS again predicts robust job growth for IT occupations."

Still, IT isn't quite the juggernaut it has been previously. According to the BLS, IT "growth is projected to be slower than it was during the previous decade, as the software industry matures and as routine work is increasingly outsourced abroad." Even so, the slowdown is relative, as IT jobs "are projected to grow more than twice as fast as the average for all occupations."

What's the takeaway? According to Panko, "this projection should continue to comfort IT students and students who are thinking of growing into IT careers," not to mention techies with visions of career advancement.

Strong Demand for Analysts

Which skills are most in demand? The BLS says the fastest growing IT occupations will be network systems and data communications analysts, computer software engineers, systems analysts, and network and systems administrators. Interestingly, some careers face declining demand - most notably, computer programmers.

But fear not for the state of programming. "These are plain vanilla programming jobs.  Software engineering jobs will grow rapidly," Panko believes. In other words, companies increasingly want developers who don't just sling code, but who solve business problems.

Still Required: Proper Preparation

While the BLS results will likely reassure IT career watchers, "there's much the BLS data doesn't say," warns Dr. Leon Kappelman, professor of information systems at the University of North Texas College of Business, and co-chair of the SIM Enterprise Architecture Working Group. For starters, long-term IT career success demands more than just technology talent. "Specific tech skills matter, but they're like table stakes - they might get you to the table, but you may not get to play, or last if you do."

Which skills, then, will help technology workers succeed? A recent study conducted for
the Society for Information Management by Dr. Jerry Luftman at Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken, N.J., put that question to employers. Hiring managers said technical proficiency isn't at the top of their must-have skills list, for either new hires or promotions.    

Top Desired Skills for Tech Workers

Entry-Level Employees

Mid-Level Hires

Problem Solving

Ethics & Tolerance

Ethics & Tolerance

Problem Solving

Communication
(Oral & Written)

Communication
(Oral & Written)

Collaboration; Teams

Collaboration; Teams

Business Analysis

Project Leadership

Functional Area Knowledge

Decision-Making

Source: Society for Information Management (2007)

While technology workers can consider this as a list of skills to master for job success, Kappelman has a pointed analysis of what the results say about the current state of IT: "After 60 years - and over 30 since Fred Brooks pointed out that analysis is the essence of IT - IT people still basically suck at communications and systems analysis," he says. "This is why we see problem solving, communication, collaboration and teams, and business analysis high on top of the IT skills list."

Channel the Big Picture

To succeed in IT, Kappelman recommends thinking beyond mastering technical or communication skills. "The biggest hole in the IT skill set today, and for that matter management capabilities in general, is the ability to grasp the big picture and all of the connections," he says. Of course, tracking the big picture can be quite complicated, which is why he predicts a continuing, strong demand for enterprise architects (a.k.a. analysts) who can model the enterprise and facilitate better business and IT collaboration.

So, technology workers today have a choice between helping drive business strategy, or just playing IT mechanic. "We will always need great IT mechanics, but I'd like to see IT have a seat at the strategic management table too," says Kappelman.

Of course, industry watchers have been arguing this for some time. Unfortunately, "the trend the last five to six years has not been favorable," Kappelman observes. "Perhaps too many senior managers - and perhaps IT people too - bought into the 'IT's just a commodity' theory. Guess they haven't seen what Google, Amazon, Goldman Sachs, and others have been up to since then."

Mathew Schwartz is a freelance business and technology journalist based in Pennsylvania.

Copyright © 2008, Dice, Inc. Re-print permission granted by Dice, Inc.






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