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The 9 hottest skills for '09

Old notion: Certain skills, such as programming, are prime for outsourcing. New order: Firms want developers and other talented staffers in-house.

By Thomas Hoffman
December 30, 2008 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - By almost any measure, the U.S. economy is in its worst state since the Great Depression. Consumer spending is down, credit markets remain weak, and more than 10 million Americans are out of work.

Yet despite the grim financial picture, demand for certain types of IT skills, such as SAP, .Net and help desk/support, remains strong. And while some employers will continue to look outside their companies to find workers with expertise in these and other disciplines, some CIOs are building some of this know-how internally as hiring freezes become more common. (Read about ways to boost your pay in Computerworld's annual Salary Survey.)

Here's a look at the hottest skills, as cited by respondents to Computerworld's annual Forecast survey.

1. Programming/application development

Ask any recruiter what the single most sought-after IT skill is at the moment, and the universal response is a three-letter word: SAP.

"The little joke in our industry right now is that if you have 'SAP' on your résumé right now, you have zero unemployment," says Bruce Culbert, CEO of iSymmetry Inc., an IT consulting and recruitment firm with offices in Washington and Alpharetta, Ga.

SAP experts, particularly those who are experienced with a specific module in a certain industry, are commanding $35 to $40 per hour more on average than other types of senior technicians, says Culbert. Demand for SAP skills has remained red hot because a growing number of companies are working toward establishing global instances of the ERP system, says Jill Herrin, president of IT recruiter JDResources Inc.

But not far behind is demand for IT professionals with .Net experience, say Herrin and other observers. Some companies that relied on offshore labor to deliver .Net and C# capabilities just a few years ago found that route to be "nonproductive," says Herrin. Now they're looking to fill those jobs in-house, she says.

Rich Schappert, senior director of IT at Casey's General Stores Inc. in Ankeny, Iowa, says he has been filling the retailer's demand for .Net and SQL Server programmers for the past five years by recruiting and training local college students. The company, which operates 1,500-plus stores across the Midwest, has been moving its Cobol-based financial applications into the .Net environment to reduce its mainframe costs. "[It's also] getting tougher to find people who know Cobol," notes Schappert.

2. Help desk/technical support

Help desk and technical support skills remain in strong demand, particularly for people who offer a blend of deep technical expertise and solid customer-service abilities, says Herrin. "I have lots of customers who tell me their customer service function is broken and they need people with better communication skills," she says.

"One of the things we're seeing a demand for in this space is what we call a JOAT -- a jack-of-all-trades -- somebody who can do break/fix work and a bit of desktop support," says Katherine Spencer Lee, executive director at IT staffing firm Robert Half Technology. Demand for well-rounded technicians tends to become more acute when companies are looking to get more work done with fewer people, she says.



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