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What IT hiring managers want, now

In today's networked world, a well-executed IT strategy affords a distinct competitive advantage. A tight economy may reshape the IT job market, but applied technical expertise never goes out of style. Reports from IT hiring managers this year indicate a buoyant market for information professionals, particularly in contract and specialist positions.

IT hiring trends in 2011 and beyond

Information technology has largely weathered recent economic woes. IT staffing firms reported a brief dip in hiring in 2009, but rebounded as businesses reposition themselves for growth. The IT unemployment rate hit a low of 3.8 percent in May 2011, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, dropping from 5.5 percent the previous year. By comparison, the overall unemployment rate soared to a high of 10.1 percent in October 2009, and has since recovered only one percentage point to 9.1 percent as of May 2011.

IT staffing firms are leading the recovery in the sector by helping clients assemble teams of professionals with targeted skills. Rachel Russell, director of marketing for TEKsystems, explains the appeal of IT staffing in a tight economy: "IT contracting enables organizations to respond to business demands and keep pace with emerging technologies, while also enabling a cautious and flexible approach to handle ebbs and flows in projects and initiatives."

Reports from the front lines of IT hiring indicate growing demand for qualified IT professionals in 2011. Hiring has "definitely been picking up for about nine months," says Rebecca Amesbury, vice president of marketing and communication for IT services company SkillStorm. TEKsystems also reported a 7.4 percent year-over-year growth in demand for IT skills between Q1 of 2010 and Q2 of 2011. Growth was especially pronounced in geographic areas like Virginia Beach, Knoxville, Omaha, Detroit, Cleveland, St. Louis and Colorado Springs.

IT skills in demand

Hiring managers polled by ComputerTrainingSchools.com cited security, software development and database and network administration as the IT skills in highest demand. The top five hardest IT skill sets to fill, according to TEKsystems, include enterprise architects, security specialists, database administrators, ERP analysts and .NET architects. IT staffing recruiters are also seeing an increase in requests for expertise in the following emerging IT specialties:

IT hiring managers are seeking candidates in both general IT and specialty areas. TEKsystems' Russell expects that "Hiring efforts in 2011 will focus on critical skill areas in networking security, application development and business intelligence. Developers, notably those who do Java and mobile applications, are in high demand, but there is also a shortage of skilled IT workers in mobile application development, cloud computing and virtualization."

Rebecca Amesbury reports, "Our clients are requesting skills in cloud computing, mobile application development, and social media as well as the more traditional software development." High-growth industries include financial services, health care, retail and IT.

Training for opportunity in IT

IT employers are encountering a tight market for qualified professionals. A survey of 900 IT hiring managers by Dice.com found that one in three employers "currently have open positions for which they can't find qualified candidates." Rapid technological advances make it difficult for IT professionals to keep pace with employer demand.

As Todd Kiziminski, recruiting manager for TEKsystems, explains, "IT changes every minute….Companies won't hire professionals for 20 years anymore. They need people to come in as specialists." Rachel Russell elaborates: "Skill sets must evolve frequently to remain competitive"; clients value "high-performance teams of select skill sets."

IT degrees and certificates offer entry-level and mid-career professionals the means to keep pace with advances in information systems technology. More and more, hiring managers value both technical and general business training. "Technically speaking, IT professionals with specialties in more emerging skill sets such as cloud computing, virtualization, social media and UC will be in demand," observes Russell. But with more and more employers giving "IT a seat at the strategic decision-making table…IT professionals with business acumen and industry knowledge will thrive."

This presents an interesting balance for IT employers to manage. "It's not always easy to find a seasoned professional with business acumen and skills in emerging technologies," Russell acknowledges. Depending on the role, employers may value IT specialist certification or a four-year degree in business--or both.

Amesbury, whose firm also recruits IT managers, values "entrepreneurial and leadership skills"; she often finds these qualities in business or communications majors. IT staffing clients who request certifications single out .NET, Java and MCSD as well as PMP for project managers. Leading certifications in emerging technologies include IBM Certified Solution Advisor--Cloud Computing Architecture and Red Hat Certified Virtualization Administrator.

Online training programs in IT

Online degrees offer mid-career professionals and other busy adults the means to upgrade their training to match employer demand. Online training programs are available in key certification areas such as network administration as well as emerging technologies. EMC, for example, offers e-learning certificate programs in cloud computing and virtualization.

Hiring managers generally indicate no bias for or against online degrees. "I have no problem with online degrees," says Kiziminski of TEKsystems, which hires both online and campus graduates. "I look for commitment--do you finish what you start?" Many recruiters have broadened their talent search from campus career fairs to online media such as LinkedIn, Monster.com and social media, leveling the playing field for online graduates.

Opportunity is back in effect in the IT sector. TEKsystems' own survey of 1,000 IT leaders found that 50 percent expected their IT budgets to increase in 2011 compared to 2010. The BLS Career Guide to Industries backs this up, forecasting 45 percent growth in computer services in the 2008 to 2018 period. With the right skills and training, IT professionals can take advantage of demand in business and specialist career tracks, including emerging technologies.

More on IT careers from ComputerTrainingSchools.com:

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