Hot skills, cold skills

The most sought-after corporate IT workers in 2010 may be those with no deep-seated technical skills at all. The nuts-and-bolts programming and easy-to-document support jobs will have all gone to third-party providers in the U.S. or abroad. Instead, IT departments will be populated with "versatilists" -- those with a technology background who also know the business sector inside and out, can architect and carry out IT plans that will add business value, and can cultivate relationships both inside and outside the company.

That's the general consensus of three research groups that have studied the IT workforce landscape for 2010 -- the year that marks the culmination of the decade of the versatile workforce. What's driving these changes? Several culprits include changes in consumer behavior, an increase in corporate mergers and acquisitions, outsourcing, the proliferation of mobile devices and growth in stored data.

What's more, the skills required to land these future technical roles will be honed outside of IT. Some of these skills will come from artistic talents, math excellence or even a knack for public speaking -- producing a combination of skills not commonly seen in the IT realm.

On the edges of this new world, expertise in areas such as financial engineering, technology and mathematics will come together to form the next round of imaginative tools and technologies. Google, eBay and Yahoo are already hiring math, financial analysis, engineering and technology gurus who will devise imaginative algorithms to fulfill users' online needs. And the National Academy of Sciences has identified a budding area of expertise that combines technology capabilities with artistic and creative skills, such as those found in computer gaming.

Closer to home, "the most effective workforce will be outward-focused, business-driven competency centers," says Diane Morello, an analyst at Gartner and author of the report "IT Professional Outlook."

"They might be competency centers formed around mergers and acquisitions," she explains. "People in IT might be involved in information integration and systems integration, customer service or some really smart ways where companies can leverage scarce and high-value talent that tend to get dismantled at the end of every project. People will be geographically distributed -- so [they'd] better be adaptable and [able to] work with people on teams that [they] don't know."

Project management and application development skills -- "whether for service providers, software developers or IT organizations -- are characteristics that will be absolute" in 2010, Morello adds.

Also, projects will be multisourced. "You'll be working with people from different types of channels," Morello says. "That will raise opportunities in relationships and sourcing management" and require IT workers to think about process design and management.

By 2010, six out of 10 people affiliated with IT will assume business-facing roles, according to Gartner. What's more, IT organizations in midsize and large companies will be at least 30% smaller than they were in 2005. Gartner also predicts that by 2010, 10% to 15% of IT professionals will leave their IT occupations as a result of the automation of tasks or because of a lack of interest in the sector.

"For my money, the hot jobs in 2010 will be these enabler jobs: business enterprise architects, business technologists, systems analysts and project managers," says David Foote, CEO and chief research officer of Foote Partners LLC, an IT management consultancy and workforce research firm in New Caanan, Conn. "If I were in IT, I would be in one of these jobs in the next five years. A lot of people can't because they're pure technologists. But there are some pretty safe bets for them both inside and outside of the service industry."

"There is much more emphasis on the business domain and on project management skills than on the technical skills," says Kate Kaiser, an associate professor at Marquette University. In September 2005, Kaiser led a Society for Information Management (SIM) study of 104 CIOs to determine their skills needs through 2008. She expects the top 10 skills identified to remain in the top 12 by 2010.

"It's not that you don't need technical skills, but there's much more of a need for the business skills, the more rounded skills," she notes.

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