Hiring managers look poised to loosen the purse strings in this jobs forecast for the coming year.

9 must have IT skills for 2012

Slowly but surely, many companies are loosening their viselike grips on IT hiring and looking to add new staffers to bolster business growth in the year ahead.

That trend is reflected in Computerworld’s annual Forecast survey.Nearly 29% of the 353 IT executives polled said they plan to increase ITstaffing through next summer. That’s up from 23% in the 2010survey and 20% in the 2009 survey. Altogether, it’s a 45% increase inhiring expectations over the past two years.

Tiny Upticks
What changes, if any, do you expect in your IT employee head count inthe next 12 months?

Increase: 29%
Decrease: 17%
Remain the same: 54%

(Source: Computerworld’s exclusive Forecast 2012 survey, June 2011.)
(Base: 353 IT executives)

“We’re seeing [strong hiring] across the board,” among organizations ofall sizes, says Mike McBrierty, chief operations officer for thetechnology staffing division of Eliassen Group, an IT recruitingfirm. He says there has been pent-up demand for infrastructure upgradesand investments that had been shelved over the previous three years.

The Forecast survey also revealed that IT managers may be thinkingabout innovation, not merely keeping the lights on, as theyplan their staffs for 2012. Respondents said these nine skills will bein demand.

1. Programming and Application Development
• 61% plan to hire for this skill in the next 12 months, up from 44% inthe 2010 survey.

This large year-over-year jump doesn’t surprise people like John Reed,executive director of staffing firm RobertHalf Technology, who sees demand for a variety of skills inareas ranging from website development to upgrading internal systemsand meeting the needs of mobile users. “Web development continues to bevery strong” as companies try to improve the user experience, he says,adding that there will also be a lot of effort to develop mobiletechnologies to improve customer access via smartphones.

Mobile application development isespecially hot in healthcare, says Randy Bankes, associate director ofIT at Lehigh Valley Health Network, a multicampus healthcare system inAllentown, Pa. Bankes says he’s had a “god-awful hard time” trying tohire people with skills in mobile technologies. “It’s competitive ashell right now,” says Bankes.

Bill Predmore, director of enterprise application support at theCapital Metropolitan Transportation Authority in Austin, also seesgrowth in mobile technology, especially in the transportation industry.”There’s more and more of a push to implement whiz-bang Web stuff,along with making trip planners, [bus and train] route data andschedule data presentable on mobile devices,” he says.

2. Project Management
• 44% plan to hire for this skill in the next 12 months, up from 43% inthe 2010 survey.

Big projects need managers, but they also need business analysts whocan identify users’ needs and translate them for the IT staffers whohave to meet those needs and complete projects on time. “The demand hasbeen more for business analysts than project managers,” Reed says — inother words, those who can help deliver projects rather than merelyoversee and monitor them.

That’s what Sean Masters discovered when he embarked on a job search inMarch. “When I was framing myself as a systems, network, security orother administrator role, I was hardly getting any attention,” says theIT professional from Worcester, Mass. “As soon as I shifted my résuméto list those specific technologies used in accomplishing specificprojects, I was suddenly framing myself as an engineer who could notonly manage systems, but also plan, design and implement them.”

3. Help Desk/Technical Support • 35% plan to hire for this skill in the next 12 months, down from 43%in the 2010 survey.

As long as technology is used in the workplace, there will be a needfor support staffers, be they internal or remote. And in organizationssuch as Lehigh Valley Health Network, help desk and tech support arepoints of entry for IT professionals and places to pick up the skillsthat can advance them into, say, a programming or systems analyst role,says Bankes.

But mobile operating systems “have added a new dimension to help deskand tech support,” says David Foote, CEO of IT staffing consultancyFoote Partners. “There are so many operating systems now that themobile platform, and especially tablets, have quickly shoved aside theold Windows/Mac OS PC desktop axis.”

4. Networking
• 35% plan to hire for this skill in the next 12 months, down from 38%in the 2010 survey.

Robert Half’s Reed says IT professionals with networking skillscontinue to be in high demand and have been “for a few quarters.” Thatdemand has been fueled, in part, by virtualization and cloud computingprojects. In fact, during his recent job search, Masters says he sawheavy interest in virtualization skills.

Reed says hiring managers are looking for people with “practical workexperience” in the networking arena, especially if they have worked inan organization that has migrated to a virtualized or cloud-basedenvironment. In particular, they’re looking for people with VMware andCitrix experience.

As for certifications, they’re important but they’re “not driving themarket one way or the other,” he says.

5. Business Intelligence
• 23% plan to hire for this skill in the next 12 months, up from 13% inthe 2010 survey.

Eliassen Group’s McBrierty says his firm is starting to see more demandfor IT professionals skilled in BI. The uptick indicates a shift fromfocusing on cost savings to investing in technology that providesaccess to real-time data, enabling better business decisions.

That may happen at Lorillard Tobacco, says Dan Clark, manager of serverand desktop technology. The $6 billion company is looking to expand itsuse of Microsoft’s SharePoint collaboration software from about 175users to more than 2,000, he says. “This will require additional headcount to develop and administer,” Clark says, adding that he’sespecially interested in SharePoint developers.

6. Data Centre
• 18% plan to hire for this skill in the next 12 months, down from 21%in the 2010 survey.

Like networking, data center operations will be impacted byorganizations’ virtualization and cloud strategies. In particular, Reedsays, hiring managers will be looking for IT professionals withbackgrounds in data center operations and systems integration.

In addition, the demands of having data available to achieve guaranteedIT service levels underscore the need for people who are experts in disaster recovery and businesscontinuity, according to Bob Cuneo, CIO at Eliassen Group. Companiesneed to ensure that the systems that users depend on will be there whenthey need them, and those systems need to be backed up and replicated,he says.

7. Web 2.0
• 18% plan to hire for this skill in the next 12 months, up from 17% inthe 2010 survey.

Technical skills centered around social media remain in demand today,as more industries look for ways to integrate Web 2.0 technologies intotheir infrastructures, and Reed says he expects that demand to continuein 2012. He sees .Net, AJAX and PHP as key back-end skills, with HTML,XML, CSS, Flash and Javascript, among others, on the front end.”Organizations know they need to engage their customers via onlineplatforms, and professionals who can support these initiatives willcontinue to command a premium in 2012,” Reed says.

8. Security
• 17% plan to hire for this skill the next 12 months, down from 32% inthe 2010 survey.

The one-year drop may be surprising given that information security threats are a movingtarget, but security is a top-level concern for many organizations,especially those that are considering cloud computing as part of theirIT strategies, says Reed.

Corey Peissig, senior vice president of technical operations atMortgagebot, a Web-based mortgage software provider, says security is atop priority at his company. “Strong technical security and auditingskills are in high demand in our business,” he says. “The challenge isthat good talent in this arena is sometimes difficult to find.”

9. Telecommunications
• 9% plan to hire for this skill in the next 12 months, down from 17%in the 2010 survey.

“We have an aggressive agenda to upgrade communications systems,” witha strong need for voice-over-IP help, says Laurie Connors, a humanresources official who handles IT hiring at Partners HealthCare, aBoston-based healthcare organization that includes the renownedMassachusetts General Hospital.

That’s why Partners will be looking for telecommunications expertise inthe coming year. Foote says he sees demand for people with IP telephonyskills, and for those familiar with Cisco IPCC call center systems.

Although there may be some concerns about the resiliency of the U.S.economy over the next year, the three-year trend in hiring planshighlighted in Computerworld’s Forecast survey indicates that IT hiring budgets are expanding.”We’re in a cycle now where it’s more about innovation than costsavings,” says Reed. “You can only create so much efficiency, [and] youcan only reduce so much cost.”