Skills in demand
12 December 2016 | 0
One of the salient characteristics of the ICT sector the over the last few decades is the ever-changing mix of skills in demand, both in the industry itself and in organisations with IT teams. As organisations were expanding before the recession we were in the foothills of early digitisation and web e-commerce and getting the hang of mobility in all its forms. But then with the contraction of ordinary commerce a lot of skilled people were lost. Youngsters (no patronage intended) were absorbed to a reasonable extent by the FDI corporations, ICT services companies soldiered on but many in-house IT departments dwindled away. That was a loss, because to a fair extent the IT departments of major organisations were the practical incubators in which applied skills were acquired under disciplined supervision. It is much harder today to get that kind of formative career experience.
Overall, it is probable that ICT employment actually grew over the last decade but there is no doubt that we lost a great deal of experience. On the other hand, it is more than possible that we skipped forward a bit through digital evolution and now have more ‘digital natives’ and a more youthful profile in our ICT community. A recent LinkedIn report put cloud computing at the top of the current list of skills sought by employers. It would hardly have figured at the onset of recession. In fact, it is arguable that the surge in cloud development was at least assisted by its promises of low costs and pay-as-you-go model in tough times.
Second on the LinkedIn list comes data analytics skills. No mystery there and again a post-recession trend as we look forward beyond the ‘keeping the lights on’ preoccupation that was the priority for all too long. You could certainly say the same about web architecture, in at number three, and social media marketing, search engine optimisation and all of that. Other skills on the list include security, middleware and integration software and change and revision management in corporate systems.
Experienced and rounded
There are many opinions about specific skills and their value, and of course the requirements will vary according to the organisation. But when we spoke to our interviewees, whose viewpoints differ widely, one theme was common and emphasised by all: rounded and experienced people with organisational soft skills to complement their technical background. Technology skills and qualifications are thoroughly important — and often very specific and in need of ongoing professional development — but above junior levels, they really do need to be complemented by soft skills.
Ergo’s Dave Muldoon has an interesting take: “We have gone through a period of outsourcing, and managed services providers like ourselves have thrived and garnered a lot of valuable people and their skills. But now we are seeing the beginning of a trend back towards in-sourcing, building teams and expertise that is very focussed on the development of the specific organisation and integral to its culture and leadership.”
“We are at a kind of crossroads in ICT in the sense that we are generally still not good at growing our own talent. Outsourcing is great for reducing costs and delegating non-core functions, but it is not conducive to building up the organisation’s own talent resources. There is growing competition for good for talent, as managed services like Ergo are well aware because that is where we invest and compete. We are now seeing — and encouraging — that trend towards organisations building up appropriately skilled in-house teams that can provide the most valuable ICT services directly. That is one of the reasons why DevOps is becoming such an important component as organisations compete and progress by constant change, differentiating themselves from their competitors. Similarly, we are seeing software development teams growing in-house, because that drives innovation.”
As an MSP, Muldoon says, there is no conflict of interest: “That ability — and indeed agility — in the client enables us to deliver better, smarter solutions. Our in-house colleagues will understand the organisation and its culture more deeply while we can provide resources and indeed a degree of objectivity. That mix of skills and experience also defines the best IT people in many respects. Whether it’s infrastructure or firewall or strategy for the future, they understand the business context. It’s not about simply capturing data, for instance, it’s about creating a good or better customer experience.”