11 hot skills for 2011

IT hiring will pick up slightly next year, and talented programmers and project managers will be at the starting line.

Christmas came in midsummer for Nicole Thompson, IS director of applications at HealthAlliance of the Hudson Valley.

Thanks to a federal mandate to implement electronic health records (EHR) systems, she has the funds in her 2011 budget to hire 11 new employees for projects ranging from database analysis and design to wireless device implementation.

"I'm bringing people on staff now who have extreme database experience," says Thompson, who works at the health care network's Benedictine Hospital campus in New York. She also needs someone with systems analysis and design experience, as well as someone who can communicate with clinicians about their workflow and then adapt a vendor's software to fit the hospital's needs.

"It's a very exciting time," she adds. "This is the first time in my entire IT career where I have been able to hire people. I'm loving this!"

After months of staff cuts or hiring freezes, many U.S. companies are planning to hire IT employees with highly valued skills. The percentage of respondents to Computerworld's annual Forecast survey who said they plan to increase staff size in the next 12 months increased slightly, from 20% in last year's survey to 23% this year.

"We're talking about hiring. It's happening now," says Dave Willmer, executive director of IT staffing services firm Robert Half Technology and a Computerworld.com columnist. "Companies that cut staff or implemented hiring freezes are realizing they need employees now to help upgrade IT systems and prepare their firms for potential growth."

What's more, IT managers are taking the opportunity to mold their departments into profit-making business units.

Computerworld's survey uncovered these 11 must-have skills.

1. Programming and Application Development

About 47% of the survey respondents who said they plan to hire IT professionals in the next year will be looking for people with programming or application development skills. Moreover, Monster.com reports that three quarters of 245 HR managers and recruiters it surveyed in May plan to hire IT staffers with applications expertise by the end of this year.

"Those skills are separate from enterprise business applications," says David Foote, CEO and chief research officer at Foote Partners LLC in Vero Beach, Fla. In this volatile market, companies need to quickly reposition, as well as use IT to grow the business through new products and innovation. So "RAD, rapid programming and agile programming seem to be coming back. Companies are starting to increase some of their pay [in these areas], which means they're looking for more capabilities in their companies," he says.

2. Project Management

Kathleen Kay has put project managers at the top of her 2011 hiring list at Comerica Bank. With some 140 IT projects on the schedule, she will need people to oversee Web and mobile initiatives, a treasury management product rollout and a legacy applications refresh, among other efforts.

The Dallas-based bank will fill those needs by hiring new people and retraining existing employees. "

We are very passionate about investing in our people and making sure they stay up to speed on skills with emerging technologies," says Kay, senior vice president of business technology services.

People with project management skills will be sought by 43% of Computerworld's survey respondents who plan to make new hires, and by more than half of those polled by Monster.com.

3. Help Desk/Technical Support

Only 20% of Microsoft customers had converted to Windows 7 as of July 2010, according to Microsoft. "That leaves 80%. They have to move over. It's not a matter of choice," Willmer says. That may be one reason why help desk and technical support skills will be high-priority in 2011 for 42% of survey-takers who are hiring.

What's more, major conversions like those in the health care arena, driven by the EHR mandate, require a lot of help desk support for users. "These aren't just people doing password resets. They're probably technically savvy as well as having that health care background," Willmer adds.

4. Networking

Networking skills are in demand among 38% of Computerworld survey respondents who said they're hiring. And those jobs were identified as the most challenging to fill in a Robert Half Technology survey of 1,400 CIOs.

"Networking is closely tied to virtualization," says Willmer. "Finding somebody with that virtualization experience and the ability to convert nonvirtual environments into virtual environments probably is the biggest reason" some networking skills are hard to find.

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