Career Watch: The IT job outlook, from CompTIA

Q&A: Todd Thibodeaux

The president and CEO of CompTIA discusses the IT job outlook.

Are things looking up for IT job seekers? Yes, but in a small way. Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics indicates jobs were added in the category of "computer systems design and related services" in June, July and August. The change was very small, but it's trending in the right direction. Our own CompTIA IT Industry Business Confidence Index for September found that 37% of surveyed firms expect to add staff in the next six months, the same percentage as in the June 2010 index. Medium-size IT firms -- meaning companies with annual revenue of $20 million to $100 million -- have the most aggressive hiring plans, with 48% of those companies indicating they plan to expand staffing over the next six months. For large companies -- those with $100 million or more in annual revenue -- a slightly smaller number, 44%, said they plan staff expansions.

What would you tell unemployed IT professionals who are finding that their skills are a poor match for the market? Any IT skill maintains its relevance, because workers are frequently dealing with legacy and embedded systems. But the key for anyone who desires a long-term career in IT is to keep your skills fresh and up to date. When the economy is good, companies have the resources to pay for continuing education and training for their workers. Unfortunately, that's often one of the areas cut first when budgets tighten. It's incumbent on the individual IT worker to take control of a lifelong learning plan so that their job skills stay current with what employers are looking for.

Employers want IT workers who can use technology for critical thinking. Demonstrate your ability to analyze a problem, solve it using available technology, and communicate your solution to others. While organizations may have slowed their spending on new IT projects, they're still pushing to squeeze more out of the systems they have in place. That requires the expertise of IT professionals who can identify ways to use technology to make the business operate more efficiently or less expensively.

Which sectors of the economy seem most promising for IT pros? Finance, education, government, entertainment, transportation, healthcare -- technology is deeply embedded in virtually every business and industry, and in businesses of all sizes, especially among the small businesses that account for the bulk of the nation's economy. A big opportunity for IT workers will occur in the health industry. Healthcare employers need workers with IT security skills, project management experience and networking qualifications. Employment opportunities exist with managed technology service providers that support medical facilities around the country. They're being called upon in large numbers to assist in the nationwide transition to electronic health records systems. This transition will also create a new category of hybrid jobs requiring a mix of healthcare knowledge and high-tech expertise. But it's important to look for opportunities that combine your technological savvy with something you're passionate about or at least somewhat interested in.

Tech Generations

We've been told that young people entering the workforce will expect to use the same technology they're accustomed to using in their personal lives: social media, text messaging, video chat. The funny thing about that conventional wisdom is that the youngest workers are the least likely to use any of those things. That's one of the findings of a study conducted for Citrix Online by Forrester Consulting.

On the job, members of Generation Y are less likely to use collaborative technology.

  Gen Y Boomers age 55+
Share information via text message 26% 47%
Use social networking 40% 50%
Source: Forrester Consulting LLC online survey of 797 people who use computers in their jobs in the U.S., the U.K., France, Germany and Australia; September 2010

And it turns out texting and other forms of multitasking are overwhelmingly frowned upon during meetings. According to the survey, 83% of the respondents believe that side conversations are unacceptable during a meeting, and 77% disapprove of doing other work on a computer or smartphone.

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