Careers: The Volatility Trap
IT employers aren’t so much looking to fill specific jobs as trying to stock up on specific IT skill sets. The upshot is that some skills are safer than others.
The IT hiring landscape is extremely volatile according to a new study from IT workforce management specialist Foote Partners. Researchers say that shops aren't so much looking to fill specific jobs as trying to stock up on specific IT skill sets.
"What is happening now is [that] employers [are homing] in on the skills they most critically need, not the people and jobs," said co-founder David Foote, in a statement. "First they identify the work, then the hard skills they need to get that work done. They look around for the people who have these skills, both inside and outside their company, and at what expertise level. Next they shift finite resources very quickly toward retaining and building -- or renting -- those skills and workers, and just as rapidly away from resources they no longer need."
Volatility is the rule, which means that while demand for some IT skills -- such as uncertified SAP expertise -- or certifications in Web development or application development is soaring, IT's appetite for others (e.g., uncertified Web or e-commerce application development or systems/networking skills, as well as sys admins with professional certifications) is fast diminishing.
What makes the IT hiring landscape so volatile, Foote continues, is the unprecedented pace at which shops are first emphasizing (presumably during the recruitment or retention processes) and then de-emphasizing (presumably after specific needs have been filled) skills. "[W]orkforce reshuffling in response to business decisions used to take months … but now it's happening in weeks and even days, hence the short-term volatility we're seeing in skills pay and demand," he points out.
In such a situation, you'd expect extreme swings in IT compensation. For example, pay for in-demand skills could spike, only to crash -- or (at least) head downward -- once demand for that skill abates.
This isn't happening, however.
"Spikes in demand driving skills premium pay up [is] … common, maybe more abrupt these days than normal. But sudden skills oversupply causing plummeting pay over a few months? That is very rare," Foote indicates. "This is a very compressed skills and labor market right now and it rewards decisiveness and quick action in building labor forces that can respond quickly to change."
In most skill areas, Foote Partners indicates, demand seems to be either stagnating or slackening; this is particularly the case for uncertified skills, where only one skill area (SAP and enterprise business applications) is in high demand. Demand for SAP skills increased by 1.2 percent between Q2 and Q3, according to Foote Partners, easily outstripping the average market value for uncertified skills, which declined by 0.7 percent during the same period. In addition to expertise with SAP and its enterprise applications stack, companies are also recruiting IT pros with Oracle applications expertise, the researcher indicates.
The Foote study recorded decreased demand for certain Microsoft-oriented skills and increased demand for Linux or Solaris skills. There's no indication that these trends are linked, however.
While losers continue to outstrip winners in both the certified and uncertified arenas, a number of skill certifications are still in demand, including:
- Application development certifications, such as Java Platform Enterprise Architects, Microsoft Certified Solution Developers (MCSD), and BEA Architects
- Database certifications, such as Oracle and DB2, along with Teradata
- Systems administration certifications, including Microsoft Certified Architects, HP Accredited Systems Engineers, Citrix Certified Integration Architects, and IBM Certified Infrastructure Systems Architects
- Networking certificationss, including a raft of Cisco professional accreditations
- A wide range of security certifications, such as CISSP, CISM, GSLC, and CISA
- Several architecture- or project management-oriented certifications, including ITIL Service Manager accreditation
That's the good news. The bad news, according to researchers, is that demand in all skill areas won't bounce back any time soon.
"It's very much still crunch time despite the U.S. stock market bouncing back and whispers that the recession may be over technically speaking," he concludes. "Staffing is a lagging indicator. The difference this time is we're expecting the length of the tail on the lag will be much longer than previous downturns. The recovery of jobs and pay will be very slow with volatility punctuating it at times."
Stephen Swoyer is a Nashville, TN-based freelance journalist who writes about technology.