Feature: Contractors need not apply?

Technology may be changing at the speed of light, but the skills that are most in demand are surprisingly familiar. Project management, data modelling, business know-how -- surely, those all ring a bell. We asked some of your international counterparts to help run down some of the job titles and skills they think most employers around the world will be seeking in the coming monthsAs we have just passed midyear, companies are more serious than ever about acquiring employees with critical skills, even if it means reactivating training programs and scouring business departments to find them.

And the emphasis is on the word "employee" -- contractors won't fit the bill. Although information technology managers have different needs, they seemingly all agree that it's time to invest in permanent staff hires, and stop relying on contract labor.

Fortunately, resources are freeing up as year 2000 projects wind down. But Y2K workers aren't necessarily the right people for the new jobs, so there may be a lot of retraining ahead.

There's still room for contractors, but more so in the technical areas of IT like programming and database administration. Strategic roles and positions requiring deep business knowledge will be reserved increasingly for permanent staff.

Since many a trend has followed activity in the US-based IT scene, we asked a number of your American counterparts to help provide a list of some of the job titles and skills they think most employers around the world will be seeking in the coming months.

E-commerce

Having the word "Web" on your rŽsumŽ will certainly turn many employers' heads. But to maintain their gaze, you need more than just front-end Web experience. The truly prized worker is also experienced in e-commerce-based transaction processing systems.

"There are a lot of Internet people who have created one Web page, with three hits a day," says Paul LeFort, CIO at UnitedHealth Group in the US. But with hundreds of thousands of Web visitors and many e-commerce efforts interwoven throughout the company, UnitedHealth needs more Internet expertise.

Although LeFort would like to find developers who can add what he calls "some flash and dash" to the company's year-old Web site, he's seeking people with about five years Web experience to work within its integration framework -- a middleware strategy that blends older systems with the Web.

UnitedHealth employs about 50 Web developers, but "hundreds and hundreds more" are working on infrastructure and integration issues, he says.

"In my own experience, 20 per cent of your Web costs are put into the Web page itself; 40 per cent goes into the infrastructure and making sure it can handle the transaction load; [and] the other 40 per cent is interfacing into legacy systems," LeFort says.

Another position that requires specific skills is vice president/managing director of electronic business, says Judy Homer, president of J. B. Homer Associates, an executive-search company. "Anything having to do with content or the infrastructure of the Internet, intranet or extranet -- that is the biggest boom happening," she says.

Finding people with those skills is another story. "The people [who] have done it -- everybody's pulling at their sleeves, and their employers want to retain them as well," says Heinz Bartesch, director at Professional Consulting Network, an IT recruiting firm in San Francisco. "It's hard to find them, and it's hard to pull them away."

Because of that, salaries are as high as $US150,000 to $US200,000 annually for someone who has applied Java skills to a successful e-business project, says Vaughn Merlyn, a vice president at The Concours Group, an IT consultancy in the US. E-commerce project managers and implementers at professional services companies can expect salaries in that range, and the pay for a director-level position can soar to $US300,000, Homer says.

ERP skills

Like e-commerce professionals, workers in the enterprise resource planning (ERP) field are in demand -- and might also encounter elevated expectations of their skills.

Although SAP AG skills "were a ticket to whatever you wanted three years ago, we're seeing some softening on that," Merlyn says. "CIOs and high-level IT managers want to know what business results you enabled. How were you able to use ERP to change business processes and deliver a different kind of result?"

Now that many companies have basic ERP packages in place, they're ready to enter more high-end realms like Web-enabled ERP. "They're not just enterprise systems but interenterprise systems," Merlyn says. "That requires sophisticated Web skills and business skills that are very hard to find."

At the same time, some companies would be happy to find someone with straight ERP capabilities. SAP expertise is a "critical need" at Eli Lilly and right now, according to Sandy Sifferlen, a recruiting manager for IT and engineering at the $US9 billion, US-based company.

Eli Lilly is in the middle of a global SAP rollout. Although the ideal candidate would be one who's been through a successful SAP implementation, "the market is tight, so we're looking at the full spectrum", Sifferlen says.

Data modelling/Data warehouse

Data management and data modelling are getting renewed attention as companies get further along in their ERP, e-commerce and data warehousing projects. Data modelling skills got a lot of attention in the early days of relational databases, but many companies never followed through on those projects, Merlyn says.

But the need for information resource management is coming back -- especially when companies want to do things like have their ERP systems talk to other ERP systems. "That requires some pretty strong data skills," Merlyn says. Extensible Markup Language also requires an understanding of how data is managed and used across the company.

Data management is one of six core competencies that Honeywell has identified in its IT organisation. "Data management is tied to the idea of equipping the organisation to leverage the knowledge it has and translate [it] into business results," says Eileen Pinto, information systems/human resources development leader at Honeywell. "It's critical that we have confidence in our data."

Project management

"In general, if someone has strong project skills, that's something we really value and continue to keep our eyes open for," says Karen Madison, human resources manager of IT at Corning Co. "With our growth, it's important [not only] for people to understand technology, but [to] also have a project management skill set."

Belk is seeking a project manager with the ability to run two large development projects at the same time. "They should have six to eight years of development experience and a couple years in project management," Harris says.

Honeywell's recent implementation of PeopleSoft's ERP applications "will require exceptional project management roles", Pinto says. After the implementation is complete, those managers could move on to jobs in e-commerce "or a variety of areas", she says.

Business skills

As companies rely more and more on IT to increase their competitiveness, they become adamant that IT professionals possess business know-how and "soft skills" such as leadership traits and the ability to communicate.

"What we're truly looking for are people who can apply business principles to IT," Sifferlen says. "We're very much viewing IT as a strategic centre for moving [the business] forward."

Eli Lilly seeks business skills in all new employees, but is now looking for systems analysts with a business bent, Sifferlen says. The growth opportunities are good. "There is an IT professional probably in every part of the company," she says.

Honeywell's future will call for skills "in broad project management roles and business partnership roles", Pinto says.

The renewed emphasis on business skills is part of a larger trend, says Linda Pittenger, president and CEO of People3, a consulting firm. More and more companies are hiring contractors to fill technical needs and nurturing a business understanding among their full-time (and hopefully, long-term) staff.

"It's more important that the person understands claims processing, say, than having C++ [experience]," she says. "They can externally buy from a contractor the C++ person."

Pittenger says she's seeing the emergence of five new job titles in the IT/business realm. The first two work hand-in-hand like "Siamese twins", she says.

They are the business consultant, who figures out how to apply technology solutions to business strategies; and the applications guru, a "very high-paid technologist" who keeps his finger on the pulse of new technology developments that can lead the company into new strategic areas, she says.

Other new positions requiring business skills are program officer, who's in charge of allocating IT resources; and sourcing manager, whose job is to decide what types of employees are required to carry out the corporate strategy.

Finally, there's a position for someone to manage all the relationships with various vendors, she says.

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