IT Careers 2014

The help desk is hot again

If you thought the traditional help desk would be outsourced, automated or altogether shut down, think again. Hiring for the help desk is hot.

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"We determined that the model just didn't fit our corporate culture," says Chris McCay, director of IT at the Washington-based program and project management firm. "We're a midsize business, but we have a real boutique flavor in the way we try to present ourselves to clients. For me to not present the help desk in that same way to our internal employees, it was creating a real corporate disconnect. So we went back to an in-house model."

McCay hired one new help desk worker, but says he will expand the staff if the business sees the same dramatic growth it experienced in 2012 and 2013 when the firm added 30 employees.

"Help desk is becoming more personable rather than the endless interactive voice response systems -- that makes a huge difference to the customer base," says Rami ElGawly, technical architect at eClinicalWorks, an electronic medical records (EMR) software company in Westborough, Mass. In 2014, the company plans to add more experienced Tier 1 help desk staffers who already have a working knowledge of the EMR product.

Demand for help desk and training staff is definitely on the rise in the healthcare sector, according to David Foote, CEO of IT workforce research firm Foote Partners in Vero Beach, Fla. Healthcare facilities are still working to comply with a federal mandate to deploy EMR systems. That's driving up pay for trainers and help desk people, "which usually means demand is growing faster than supply, particularly over the last year," Foote says.

"I think that's why the help desk has become more of a place where people can stay, because they're finding that they are gaining importance for the company," he adds. "Before, [help desk staffers] were relegated to the bottom of the line, where people who weren't able to get to the [interactive voice response system] were routed," and they often ended up helping irate customers who had been on the line for 10 minutes.

Career vs. Steppingstone

Several Maricopa County agencies are operating around the clock while trying to deploy new technologies. So Stevens plans to hire more help desk staffers to create a third shift of experienced professionals for after-hours calls, such as those from the health services unit at the department of corrections, which recently added EMR software.

"The help desk used to simply be a clearinghouse where they would take in the phone call and ship it out to somebody else to solve the problem. Now we want to embrace first-call resolution, so the skills they have to have are more substantive than in the past," Stevens says. "They must be able to solve technical problems without going to Tier 2 or 3 support, which is what the trend used to be. They're coming in and having the opportunity to own more issues, expand their technical knowledge -- and it becomes more of a career than a steppingstone."

Stevens has already hired several people who have been in the workforce for years and have decided to make the help desk their new home.

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