Survey: Business skills in demand for IT workers

A survey of 100 companies shows IT professionals might need to bone up on their business skills going forward, as employers look for workers with project management, leadership and communications skills.

The results of research conducted by more then 20 members of the Society of Information Management (SIM) between May and October 2005 (and released this week) show that the IT workforce may not experience a significant change in actual numbers.

"The IT workforce, including in-house, independent-contractor and third-party provider full-time equivalents (FTE) will remain basically unchanged from 2005 to 2008," the report states.

But IT professionals will have to evolve their skill sets to include more business-related capabilities.

"One important finding is the emphasis on business skills. There has always been a need for that, but now employers want IT workers to have industry knowledge and business skills from the start," says Kate Kaiser, a charter member of the Wisconsin chapter of SIM and an associate professor at Marquette University. "Computer science is very technical by design, but two of the more popular areas in demand are systems analysis and systems design, both of which are customer-facing positions that require user interaction and communications skills."

Specifically, the study says, "business skills and capabilities, represent five of the top ten skills respondents identified as critical to keep in-house in 2005." Also, those surveyed said they didn't think there was a sufficient supply of project managers with skills in the areas of project planning, leadership and risk management. Communication was the skill cited as most lacking in entry-level hires, according to the report.

"Employers want entry-level people to have some of the skills much earlier than they used to," Kaiser says.

The study also found that despite the fear many IT workers have about offshoring, it might not affect U.S.-based employees all that much.

"There isn't going to be a big change in the number of U.S. IT workers, up or down, due to a number of reasons," Kaiser says. While many were worried about the threat of offshoring or outsourcing to IT jobs, the threat doesn't appear to be large, she says.

The survey found respondents expect a slight increase in FTEs between 2005 and 2008, and that about three-fourths of employees were full-time staff, vs. the remaining that were sourced to third-party providers. Of those expected to outsource more, the trend is not necessarily to foreign-based vendors.

"The results indicate that respondents expect to use more third-party provider FTEs at offshore locations, albeit FTEs employed by domestic third-party provider firms than foreign-based offshore vendors," the report states.

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