IT Skills Are Not the Private Domain of IT

Don Tennant

I've found over the years that there's a lot of confusion between the demand for IT workers and the demand for IT skills. They're two entirely different things, yet not uncommonly, those phrases are used interchangeably. The misunderstanding that mix-up creates is likely to get even worse, given that the demand for IT skills is skyrocketing, while the demand for IT workers as we've known them for decades seems destined to dwindle.

Reinforcing that assessment, is a newly released report from IT research firm Foote Partners, which concluded that the definition of "IT professional" has undergone dramatic change:

The daunting challenge facing employers, both public and private sector, has been meeting the people and specialized talent requirements in a distributed IT enterprise: They are at odds with the organizational structures and management practices that have been in place for decades. There's a brand new definition of "IT professional" and they're struggling with it. [There are] countless new combinations of knowledge, experience, and skill sets that would not have been associated with IT departments and workers with traditional IT duties and responsibilities but are now considered mainstream as a new breed of IT professional. This is feeding a corporate preoccupation with both skills acquisition and the hiring of non-traditional IT professionals in a very big way.

The report noted that the role of technology in the enterprise, meanwhile, is so pervasive that it's no longer feasible to think of IT skills as being confined to the domain of traditional IT workers:

Technology and business skills have in effect collapsed into each other, creating legions of what our firm refers to generically as "hybrid IT/business professionals." New hybrid jobs and job titles have been created throughout the enterprise. Even traditional IT jobs have been reshuffled and substantially redefined with new skill requirements and aptitudes [demanded], even though many times the job titles have remain unchanged.

Exacerbating the confusion about the extent of the demand for IT skills, according to Foote, is U.S. government data that fails to accurately reflect job categories in which these skills are essential:

There is widespread acceptance -- in part from the federal government's insistence -- that there are four million IT professionals in the U.S. workforce (employed and unemployed). But the Department of Labor clings to a definition of these jobs so out of date that, at best, only 20 percent of IT professionals can be clearly identified in their data. The truth is that there are another 16 to 20 million workers buried in business and professional job segments in federal employment reports for whom IT-related skills are central to the work they are performing. [There are] tech savvy people working in business lines, corporate departments, and in various enterprise strategic and operational functions whose jobs require skills well beyond technology. They are represented in levels of responsibility ranging from administrative to executive. These are the IT/business -- or business technology -- hybrid professionals, but you and I might know them as marketing specialists, sales engineers, logistics analysts, and even vice presidents of operations.

All of this will mean different things to different people. What it means to me is that the many disenchanted IT workers who are resolved to dissuade their children from pursuing educations and careers in IT need to be very careful. No one is saying that we should encourage our kids to embark on a course based on an outdated notion of what an IT professional really is. But if we dissuade them from taking a path that places an emphasis on the acquisition of IT skills, then we deprive them of opportunities for success in far too many fields of endeavor.

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Add Comment      Leave a comment on this blog post
Feb 6, 2011 5:32 PM Dolores Dolores  says:

All four of my grown kids were told back in high school: be good with computers, but major in something else. Today, they are all working, some of them earning very well.


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