We are in the midst of an era of major technological change. New technologies – and the end user habits they impact – consistently generate new opportunities and challenges for businesses, governments and everyday consumers. But through these ongoing innovation and adoption cycles, one facet of the IT industry holds steady: the employment skills gap.
According to a recent CompTIA analysis, 91 percent of IT hiring managers in the U.S. indicate some degree of gaps between the skills their organizations demand and those that their employees possess. This persistent issue can be attributed to the rapid change inherent in the industry. Organizations need professionals well versed not only in foundational concepts like infrastructure, networking and the cloud, but also more niche and emerging subject matter such as data visualization, responsive design and cognitive computing.
For job seekers with the right qualifications, the future is bright. In 2015 alone, U.S. technology employment hit 6.7 million, achieving its highest year-over-year growth rate in more than a decade. Landing an IT role and developing a long-term career path, however, starts with having relevant, adaptable skillsets – both technical and business-centric.
Here are four vital areas where new and seasoned IT job candidates should develop their skills, to thrive in the industry today:
1. Interpersonal communication
The more technology penetrates all functions within an organization, the more important it is for IT professionals to take on business-centric work – and partner effectively with non-technical colleagues. Fifty-six percent of IT hiring managers report that a top business priority for their organizations in 2016 is to leverage technology to improve operations. Being fluent in multiple programming languages, or having years of experience in identity management, isn’t all candidates should flaunt during the IT interview process. Hiring managers are looking for proof that you can network, navigate a team structure and collaborate with people who have different backgrounds than your own. Don’t hesitate to showcase prior extracurricular activities or non-IT positions that highlight your interpersonal competency.
2. Industry focus
Having specialized training and experience in one IT niche – be it app development, security or server management – makes you a more marketable job candidate. But increasingly, employers are looking for IT professionals that bring both technical and industry concentrations to the table. Almost all verticals today have unique technical needs and challenges to overcome. For financial services organizations, everything from trade surveillance to SEC compliance requires robust IT support. In healthcare, the shift toward electronic health records, paired with new HIPAA requirements, have created an enormous need for IT leaders who can balance large technology deployments and change management responsibilities alike.
3. Legal and regulatory compliance knowledge
As organizations contend with growing amounts of sensitive data, the connection between IT and risk management is harder to ignore. Consequently, half of IT hiring managers say working knowledge of compliance standards and regulations is a key security skill they look for in applicants. Recent events from the encryption battle between Apple and the FBI, to the aftermath of the Volkswagen diesel emissions scandal, illustrate how corporate legal issues are no longer isolated to general counsel. Employers of all sizes need IT professionals who understand the policy implications of data handling, device use and software as well as the technical details.
4. Hardware deployment and security
Within the broad realm of IT support responsibilities, hardware and software deployment is considered a vital skill (according to 71 percent of hiring managers), followed closely by troubleshooting, repair and incident management. The expanding diversity of hardware – from PCs and hybrid tablets to wearables and Internet of Things-enabling sensors – has imbued hardware skills with tremendous workplace cachet. Every new end user device that enters the market, and every new household item that becomes Internet-enabled, presents another endpoint that needs robust support.
The idea of an IT career is more diverse than ever before. There is no single, standardized skill set or job history that sets professionals up for a successful path in the field. The perpetual transformation of technology has created opportunities for candidates with varied experience, academic backgrounds and passions.
Employers need qualified IT talent in many forms. By honing their skills in alignment with employers’ demand, IT professionals will not only land the job, but make themselves indispensable to their organizations.