Prospering in Today’s IT Employment Environment
March 2005 – Neill Hopkins
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There is one fact that people working in IT can take to the bank: Information and communication technology is indispensable to 21st century life, ensuring a continuing need for educated, certified and experienced IT professionals.
But if IT is indispensable, why is new job creation so slow? One major issue is the fact that the IT products and systems that are installed today are incremental enhancements, not breakthroughs, and do not require a large influx of new employees. Another damper to employment growth is systems automation through IT—fewer people are required at each stage of the system’s life cycle. Technology and product obsolescence eliminate specialist jobs, and outsourcing in all its guises further depresses job growth. On top of these IT-related issues, the jobless economic recovery is slowing employment growth.
Still, organizations will continue to need skilled IT workers. Information and communications employment, in short, is undergoing a period of environmental change. Those who adapt to the new environment will be the survivors. If this is a “survival of the fittest” situation, what qualities and qualifications do employers look for in “fit” IT professionals?
Employers are increasingly looking for employees who can wear many different hats in order to serve a variety of functions and solve a wide range of problems. Multi-talented people help to keep head count down. Technicians well-versed in information and communication standards and practices are typically the best equipped to operate in a multi-vendor, multi-responsibility environment.
Become a professional. The word “professional” goes beyond the attitude and character one takes to approach work. It also means becoming an expert in the truest sense of the word, through education, certification and experience in the standards and practices of the profession. Employers will hire IT “professionals,” confident that these employees offer the best investment over the long haul.
Formal education and training are important first steps. Education imparts fundamental principles, practices and problem-solving skills. It also can broaden students’ perspectives, enabling them to communicate effectively with others and to work well in a diverse workplace. Employers know that educational performance demands dedication, knowledge and talent—qualities they are looking for.
Today, educational opportunities abound at public and private institutions both in classrooms and online. Continuing education credits and associate, undergraduate and post-graduate degree programs are widely available. IT professionals know that a lifelong commitment to continuing education is required.
Adding IT certification to educational performance is a powerful endorsement of an IT worker’s capabilities. At the entry level, vendor-neutral certification demonstrates knowledge mastery of standards and practices as defined by IT industry leaders. Increasingly, employers want to be assured that the candidate has trained for and passed the latest version of the exam—proof that the technician’s knowledge is current and relevant.
At the foundation level, defined as 18 to 24 months of experience, training for and earning vendor-neutral certifications helps to prepare the individual for the move to a higher professional plateau. This will be particularly true when taking on larger measures of responsibility in security and project management.
Beyond the foundation level, active involvement in professional organizations marks a person as committed to a career. Professional and business organizations offer networking opportunities, critically important insights into current trends and issues, and vendor-neutral certifications that are respected by leaders in the profession. These certifications are developed and maintained by the practice for the practice. Staying on top of trends through membership in an association helps IT professionals avoid career dead ends.
Experience is essential to survival. With demonstrated on-the-job results and a strategic portfolio of vendor-specific certifications, the professional becomes a highly credible candidate for promotion or hiring. Employers view the professional’s approach to his or her career—education, certification and experience—as essential for establishing confidence and trust that the candidate will successfully meet the rigors of a daily IT workload.
Doctors, lawyers, teachers, engineers, accountants, architects and scientists are members of the “learned” professions. They undergo extensive, specialized education, earn certifications, join professional organizations and move toward specialties. IT is achieving a similar “learned profession” status. To survive and prosper, take steps to become a learned professional, and you’ll be able to adapt to the new employment environment.
Neill Hopkins is vice president of skills development at CompTIA, with responsibility for CompTIA’s industry certifications and workforce development. He can be reached at email@example.com.