Forecast 2015

10 hottest IT skills for 2015

Programmers and project managers rejoice: Your skills are bankable assets.

Talent compass to recruit and hire the right skills.
Credit: Thinkstock

The pace of job growth in IT may be slowing down, but it’s still moving at a strong clip.

A healthy 24% of the respondents to Computerworld’s 2015 Forecast survey said that their companies plan to add more IT employees in the year ahead. While down from 32% and 33% in the previous two years, the fact that a number of employers still anticipate growth indicates that the prospects for expansion in the IT ranks are good.

Moreover, the kinds of technical skills in high demand are those needed for enterprises in expansion mode, suggesting that organizations are continuing to invest in their IT infrastructures.

“There are large initiatives [underway], and you have to have the people to get those done,” says Jason Hayman, market research manager at TEKsystems, an IT staffing and consulting firm.

Here’s a look at the 10 IT skills that the 194 IT executives who responded to our survey said will be most in demand heading into 2015.

1. Programming/application development

• 48% of respondents said they plan to hire for this skill in the next 12 months.

• Last year’s ranking: No. 1

As was the case last year and the year before that, IT departments are more likely to have job openings for programmers and developers than for any other position.

Programming certainly tops the list of skills sought by Blake K. Holman, senior vice president and CIO at Ryan LLC, a Dallas-based tax services firm. Like many others, he’s looking for developers who can move his organization forward. But, given the demand, he’s struggling to find the talent he requires. “It’s been very difficult to find folks with good development skills,” he says, explaining that he can find workers with some development aptitude, but landing programmers and developers with enough experience to handle the scale and complexity his company demands is challenging.

2. Project management

• 35% of respondents said they plan to hire for this skill in the next 12 months.

• Last year’s ranking: No. 5

Demand for project managers jumped four spots up the list this year, and that doesn’t surprise Leon Kappelman, lead researcher for the Society for Information Management’s (SIM) IT Trends Study.

Darren Ghanayem, VP and CIO at Wellpoint [2014]

Darren Ghanayem

There is some catching up going on now, because there was so little investment in recent years, he says, noting that companies need project managers who can oversee large projects that span the enterprise. Darren Ghanayem, vice president and CIO in the commercial and specialty business division of Indianapolis-based health benefits provider WellPoint, says the list of complex initiatives on deck has created more demand for solid project management expertise. That has him turning what were outsourced jobs into staff positions, and he, too, says finding the right talent is challenging.

Good project managers need a mix of business and technology acumen along with the ability to bridge those two areas, he says. They also need experience in leading teams using specific methodologies, such as agile and waterfall. And Ghanayem specifically needs people who know how to move a traditional waterfall shop to an agile one. Given such intense requirements, he says it’s not surprising that demand for project managers is on the rise.

3. Help desk/technical support

• 30% of respondents said they plan to hire for this skill in the next 12 months.

• Last year’s ranking: No. 2

IT leaders say they still have a growing need for help desk and technical support staffers because ongoing projects expand the list of devices and applications that their departments must support. “Demand for this position is a function of growth,” says Andrew C. Jackson, president and co-founder of BravoTech, a technology staffing firm in Dallas, and a member of the SIM Management Council. Jackson notes that the growing number of companies adopting bring-your-own-device programs has also fueled the need for more support professionals, because both the volume and variety of hardware and software within organizations is proliferating.

4. Security/compliance governance

• 28% of respondents said they plan to hire for this skill in the next 12 months.

• Last year’s ranking: No. 7

Executives and board members are willing to spend more money on security because security breaches are making headlines these days. SIM’s research shows that IT departments are beefing up their security ranks; security ranked seventh on the organization’s list of most significant IT investments for 2014.

Cynthia Nustad, enterprise VP and CIO at HMS [2014]

Cynthia Nustad

Cynthia Nustad, enterprise vice president and CIO at HMS, an Irving, Texas-based provider of cost containment services to healthcare payers, says organizations like hers face an ever-increasing number of threats. So she’s expanding her security team, which has already nearly tripled in size during the past five years. She says she’s seeking more specialized security talent; the positions she’s filling include one focused on incident management and another focused on threats and vulnerabilities.

“The demand to secure data is paramount, and the people who understand security — the architects, engineers or subject-matter experts — are very hard to find,” Nustad says.

5. Web development

• 28% of respondents said they plan to hire for this skill in the next 12 months.

• Last year’s ranking: Not ranked

Matt Leighton, director of recruitment at Mondo, a tech staffing agency, says that Web development expertise is one of the hardest skill sets to find. “The influx of demand has not been met with the talent readily available — there is a gap in terms of what the companies want to do and the talent that is out there to execute these initiatives,” he says.

6. Database administration

• 26% of respondents said they plan to hire for this skill in the next 12 months.

• Last year’s ranking: No. 6

Database administration is a tried-and-true IT role — one that’s always needed in any organization. But the buzz around big data is what’s driving much of today’s demand for people with this skill. “You’ve got the ability to crunch massive amounts of data, but you still need to understand how your database has been put together,” says Terry Erdle, executive vice president for certifications and learning at CompTIA, a wireless industry trade group.

In fact, IT staffing firm Robert Half Technology’s latest IT Hiring Forecast and Local Trend Report, released this past summer, found that 52% of U.S. technology executives listed database management as the skill set in greatest demand within their IT departments.

7. Business intelligence/analytics

• 24% of respondents said they plan to hire for this skill in the next 12 months.

• Last year’s ranking: No. 8

Given the enterprise interest in big data these days, it’s no surprise to see IT executives list BI and analytics among their most sought-after skills. Jackson says BravoTech clients consistently tell him they’re seeking people with BI and analytics expertise as they get more deeply involved in data analysis projects. And respondents to the Computerworld Forecast survey who said they plan to add IT positions in the next 12 months listed BI/analytics expertise as the skill set they expect to have the hardest time finding.

8. Mobile applications and device management

• 24% of respondents said they plan to hire for this skill in the next 12 months.

• Last year’s ranking: No. 4

Like many other IT executives, Paul R. Quinn, strategic execution officer and CIO at Duke Realty in Indianapolis, is trying to keep up with demand for mobile apps from employees who bring their own devices to work. So in an effort to broaden the ranks of in-house staffers with the talent to meet that demand, he’s both hiring new people and training existing staff members who are interested in learning about mobile app development and device management.

9. Networking

• 22% of respondents said they plan to hire for this skill in the next 12 months.

• Last year’s ranking: No. 3

According to the recent Robert Half Technology IT Hiring Forecast and Local Trend Report, 57% of U.S. technology executives said network administration tops the list of skills needed in their organizations. That’s in line with the staffing needs at the University of Pennsylvania, where IT leaders in the Information Systems & Computing department listed networking among the seven skills that they need most. They’re looking for people with expertise in IP routing, switching, firewall filtering, packet capture and packet tracing/debugging, optical networking, network management, and virtual environments and integration.

10. Big data

• 20% of respondents said they plan to hire for this skill in the next 12 months.

• Last year’s ranking: No. 11

In its September 2014 report titled “Fastest-Growing Tech Skills,” Dice reported that the number of postings related to big data on its IT jobs site grew 56% year over year. Moreover, the company noted that demand for big data expertise cuts across a number of industries, helping to boost not only demand for people with the right skills, but pay as well. “Data balloons every day, and therefore the amount of information we need to sift through to get at the real nuggets of value is exponentially bigger than it was a year ago,” says HMS’s Nustad. “And the executive team’s awareness that the data brings value has created this surge in demand.”

IT hiring: The tables have turned

The unemployment rate for IT professionals was just under 3% in September, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. And given that figure, many CIOs say they realize that finding talent will be a tough and time-consuming endeavor.

As enterprise vice president and CIO at HMS, Nustad is trying to fill a number of positions — from a project manager to enterprise architects. She says she has expanded the search nationwide, but it’s still taking months to find people for some positions.

At the same time, demand for experienced IT professionals is so high that she has had to redouble her efforts to retain her talent, too.

“Our access to free-agent talent, it just doesn’t exist,” she says. “You’re gently poaching from others, and protecting your turf.”

John Reed, executive director at Robert Half Technology [2014]

John Reed

According to Robert Half Technology’s Hiring Index survey, 61% of CIOs believe it’s very or somewhat challenging to find skilled IT professionals. The CIOs also reported that they expect to encounter the most difficulty filling positions in application development, networking and security. “There is certainly a supply-demand imbalance in some IT specialties,” says RHT executive director John Reed.

On the other hand, when asked about business priorities for the coming 12 months, only 20% of the respondents to Computerworld’s 2015 Forecast survey said that they consider attracting new talent a business priority. It ranked 10th on a list of 11 priorities for the upcoming year.

Some recruiters suggest that many hiring managers may be stuck in a recession-era mindset, thinking that experienced talent is easier to come by than it really is.

“Many hiring managers are very selective and only interested in applicants who possess all the skills and attributes they’re seeking, which can make it more challenging to fill a position,” Reed says. “The leaders who realize that IT talent trumps technology put hiring at the top of their priority list and create the urgency and enforce the message that bringing on top talent is of the utmost importance.”

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