Careers: IT Jobs -- A Safe Harbor of a Sort

With contract and services work all the rage, recruiting, retaining, or promoting full-time employees isn’t a high priority for most IT organizations at this time.

According to the latest jobs data, IT continues to be a mostly insulated safe harbor for job-seekers. Companies are approving oft-delayed projects, CIOs are hiring, and some analysts suggest that IT talent is once again commanding a premium. That’s the good news.

The bad news is that work in IT probably isn’t quite the safe harbor a lot of job-seekers have in mind because companies are chiefly looking to acquire skills -- not to recruit and retain employees. This means contractors -- or, just as likely, IT services firms -- are in high demand. Recruiting, retaining, or promoting full-time employees isn’t a priority for most IT organizations at this time.

That’s one of the conclusions of a new study by Foote Partners Inc., an IT salary researcher based in Vero Beach, Fla.

This isn’t exactly a new -- or surprising -- development, however. “I don't think anyone should be surprised that skills acquisition, not recruiting full-time people, has been the bigger focus in the past few years for employers managing IT resources,” said David Foote, co-founder and CEO of Foote Partners, in a prepared release. “Much of this [skills] acquisition has been accomplished by farming work out to consultants and contractors, to part-time employees, offshore vendors, and to managed services and cloud computing suppliers. As a result, the revenue growth numbers in the services industries have been strong and the forecasts for continued expansion equally robust.”

The old model -- which prescribed separate and precisely delineated domain areas for both IT and business -- is breaking down.

"Another … more significant and far-reaching [factor] … is that companies have changed the way they think about information technology and how it's managed and delivered," Foote continued. "The role of … managing [technology] is no longer entrusted to one group but instead split among every department, function, line of business, and product group."

This breakdown, along with the perceived cost and efficiency advantages of the outsourcing model, has accelerated the trend toward professional services. "The … challenge facing employees [in] both [the] public and private sector[s] … has been meeting the people and specialized talent requirements in a distributed IT environment." Such requirements are "at odds with organizational structures and management practices that have been in place for decades," Foote maintained.

This transition -- from a discrete segmentation between business and IT to what Foote dubs the "hybrid" IT/business professional -- has contributed to a "corporate preoccupation" with acquiring IT skills and recruiting non-traditional IT 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 piled, even though many times the job titles have remained unchanged.”

This, in turn, places a premium on professional certifications, both as a means to secure plum, full-time positions with services firms -- which are actively recruiting IT pros who have in-demand certifications -- and to secure contract work with conventional employers. “Globalization and competitive pressures have accelerated the popularity of hybrid IT/business professionals and in turn energized market demand and interest in paying cash premiums for hundreds of certified and noncertified IT skills,” Foote noted.

The upside to this trend -- from the perspective of IT pros, at any rate -- is that in-demand skills and certifications now command a market premium. “It's driving HR crazy, especially compensation managers who have to identify and define these people and figure out how to set pay to appropriate market levels.”