By Paul Simoneau, Global Knowledge Instructor
Organizations are moving strongly toward Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) access, bringing outsourced activities back in-house, and finding ways to make use of the growing amounts of data flowing in from many new sources such as social media. These factors create an increasing shift in required and desired skills showing up in IT departments. Hiring and salary surveys, such as the 2014 IT Skills and Salary Survey from Global Knowledge and Windows IP Pro, TEKsystems' 2014 Annual IT Forecast, Foote Research Group's 2014 IT Skills and Certifications Pay Index, Computerworld's annual Forecast survey, Robert Half Technology Survey, and information from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, Futurestep, Mondo, GovLoop, and Dice have presented a developing picture of the IT skills that will be in demand in 2014.
Here, in survey order, are the top 10 major skills and why they made the list.
1. Programming and Application Development
According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, developers and programmers enjoy one of the lowest unemployment rates-just 1.8 percent. Multiple employers surveyed identify this as both the hottest skill for 2014 and the most difficult to fill. Further, major organizations are planning to transition from relying on third-party programming providers to in-house development. That makes for more openings than will be filled this year.
The number of ads for software developers has more than doubled since last year, and the demand for front-end developers and user experience engineers will continue to grow.
2. Help Desk and Technical Support
After outsourcing to third-party support companies, many organizations are also bringing the help desk back in-house. That seems to be in response to the huge increase of mobile devices, along with company-provided web services. With the complexity of those functions, it's crucial that the technical support staff has a strong understanding of just what the company is doing. That is one of the strongest arguments for returning (or keeping) this capability close.
Organizations usually add technical support and help desk staff when adding new employees as well as when they are expanding their tech infrastructure.
The demand for networking skills soared to third place this year in multiple surveys. Some surveys even place senior networking professionals as the most in demand. Network managers and administrators fill the senior positions above help desk and technical support staff. As one grows, the other follows shortly, and in this case, in the same year. As an example, the unemployment rate for network and systems administrators is 1.1 percent.
The requirement for expanding wireless connectivity is the most likely reason for the jump in demand for networking professionals. The increased network traffic BYOD solutions and organization-provided wireless devices produce requires a lot of troubleshooting.
4. Mobile Applications and Device Management
The use of smartphones, tablets, and similar devices is growing in all areas of both business and consumer arenas. This is driving a strong demand for specialists and experts with mobile skills-the skills that some surveys rated as the third most difficult to find.
Mobile app development is very high on many organizations' IT priority lists. That is followed closely by developing websites that are responsive to various mobile devices. This ensures a consistent end-user experience. Some managers have said they will resort to retraining existing staff if they are unable to find qualified new hires.
5. Project Management
Though less so than in 2013, project management continues to be a highly desired skill. Some surveys place it right behind software developers/engineers, with demand that has grown more than 10 percent from last year. Some of the latest survey results show that the demand for project managers is resurging in more complex, strategic long-term technology plans.
Since IT is being judged based on the success or failure of projects, such as HealthCare.gov, organizations are making heavier investments in business analyst/project manager skills. To make highly visible major projects and even small, quiet implementations successful, project managers must gather diverse business and end-user requirements, set priorities, be able to talk with developers about the technologies involved, and follow through to make sure the processes are completed in a timely manner and tested thoroughly before they are rolled out.
6. Database Administration
Though database administration missed the 2013 list, it will be quite hot in 2014. That stems from the growing interest in big data. Organizations have been gathering huge amounts of information from websites, social media, and third-party arrangements. Now they want to be able to use that data to make better decisions on products, services, and their customers.
A database administrator will build a logical data map of organizational systems, gather all the relevant pieces of data from multiple sources, compile analysis of that data, and provide a detailed report of the findings. This year, those in highest demand will have experience moving IT systems and services to the cloud.
A hot IT skill every year is security expertise. Responding to highly publicized and very costly (in terms of dollars and consumer confidence) attacks, companies across all categories are looking for security experts who can help them protect their valuable intellectual property.
Growing interest in cybersecurity, up more than 20 percent from 2013, continues to push the demand. A big part of that is because security fits in many IT job descriptions just as networking, software development, and project management.
With increases in attacks, malware, and personal data theft, security jobs will continue to be some of the most challenging to fill. Like other skills on this year's list, the recent media attention on security failures has driven organizations to bring these skills in-house for better management and control.
8. Business Intelligence/Analytics
From education to retail and government to major corporations, organizations have been collecting huge amounts of data. In fact, big data is predicted to grow more than 40 times by 2020 to over 35 zettabytes. (A zettabyte is a billion terabytes.) With that volume of global data, companies and governments are eager to gain a competitive edge with ever more sophisticated analytics capabilities. Since many consider business intelligence and analytics a specialty, there are fewer postings in early 2014 than expected by 2015.
According to hiring surveys, demand for these skills and data modeling are double what they were last year and among the most difficult skills to find. The desire for a competitive edge is just one aspect of the increased demand for these skills. Security implementations are using analytics to search for data flows that are abnormal for the network and, therefore, suspect.
This third-fastest growing skill set means professionals can command six-figure salaries. Using these skills to transform heavy volumes of geospatial and consumer preference data into actionable insights on a timely basis will help organizations be more proactive and their data more useful in business decisions.
With interest in and demand for cloud computing growing more than 30 percent in the past year, there will be a strong focus on moving IT systems and services to the cloud. That will probably increase over the next year and drive the demand for cloud-experienced networking professionals again next year.
Some organizations will defer the related long-term capital expenditures by using hybrid cloud models or moving some functions to the cloud to free up resources for on-site functions. Larger commitments involve an owned data center and/or collocating facilities to create an organizational cloud.
Making infrastructure as a service, platform as a service, and software as a service work with the traditional data center resources requires a strong understanding of all the dependencies. Google, Amazon, Microsoft, and Facebook are spending billions of dollars on new data centers and server infrastructures to power their workloads.
According to most surveys, two key skills are the abilities to collaborate and communicate with business users. These skills are essential to empower end users to know how IT can help them be more efficient. That requires IT staff to be able to translate systems' capabilities into terms an end user can apply to their work.
One of the most important communication skills is the ability to speak using the terms familiar to the various business domains, such as sales, marketing, finance, and manufacturing. Technical skills are in high demand, though those with some knowledge or experience in areas such as supply chains and financial derivatives will get the first job offers.
More than half of the surveyed HR managers report they have open positions that may stay that way, as qualified candidates are rare. Nearly half of them say they expect things to remain this way through the first quarter of 2014 or perhaps longer.
Instead of waiting for a perfect applicant, about half of the employers surveyed are planning to train those who are short on the IT skills but have experience in the organization's field, up 10 percent from 2013. About 25 percent are sending employees back to school.
More than 25 percent of hiring managers plan to present their organizations to high school students or even younger. The plan is to begin luring future applicants to help them prepare.
All of this is activity is an encouraging sign for the economy as a whole, as it indicates that there is a continuing place for who are willing to reinforce their business skills by adding IT skills to their resume or vice versa.
About the Author
Paul Simoneau has well over 40 years of experience in working with multiple aspects of computers and data communications. He is the founder and president of NeuroLink, Ltd., an international coaching and education company specializing in professional development with a client list that includes Cisco, AT&T, Lucent, Citibank, Quest Communications, HP, Sprint, Verizon, and all branches of the US Armed Forces.
He is a senior instructor and course director with Global Knowledge, where he has authored and managed three highly successful courses: Understanding Network Fundamentals, TCP/IP Networking, and the now defunct Network Management with SNMP. In support of these and other courses, he actively participates in Global Knowledge's e-mentoring programs.
The author of "Hands-On TCP/IP" and "SNMP Network Management" published by McGraw-Hill, Paul is a graduate of the State University of New York at Albany and holds a master's degree from Webster University.