Career Security and Growth
I recently had the opportunity to speak on an industry panel regarding workforce investment and the need to skill America’s workforce to remain competitive in the IT sector. As the audience and my fellow panelists engaged in discussion, it became clear to me that a new and powerful trend has emerged that many of us working in training and certification have seen coming for some time. It is no longer sufficient to build your career solely around IT certifications. To truly ensure career security in 2003 and beyond, you need to round out your technical skill set with a series of business-related skills. Employers are now ranking business skills just as important as, if not more important than the technical certifications and credentials you have worked so hard to achieve. In this article, I will tell you about two broad areas that appear to be most in demand and will provide some resources for obtaining these skills.
The first major area is project management. The demand for project management skills is best summed up as a demand to utilize technology more efficiently and deploy it more cost-effectively. It is no different from other initiatives taking place inside companies across the United States as they seek to reduce expenses, maximize competitiveness and ultimately, return shareholder value. Almost every company that I speak to has a list of horror stories about IT projects that have gone miserably wrong—projects that have exceeded time expectations by months, if not years, projects that started out with a manageable budget that grew into proportions nobody ever imagined possible. These issues have made it very difficult for organizations to achieve a return on investment for the technology they’ve built and deployed. In short, employers are not just looking for people who have the ability to manage, deploy and develop technology, but people who are able to estimate the time and cost associated with these rollouts, who have the skills to track and manage the projects as they are undertaken and perhaps most importantly, problem-solve and minimize surprises. They are looking for individuals who can fully deliver on the objectives that the organization sets out to achieve.
The second major trend that appears to be emerging is the demand for business analysis skills. It is no longer acceptable to simply wait to be given the specifications for the technology that needs to be built and deployed. IT professionals are being asked to meet with business owners across the organization in order to understand their needs, recommend appropriate solutions to those needs, prepare a return on investment analysis and ultimately commit to managing the project. For many IT professionals, the thought of sitting down and having to put together a thorough business case, financially justified and fully defensible, is an extremely foreign concept. However, I believe that these skills, coupled with an understanding of the technology in use today and the technology of the future, will be incredibly valuable for an IT professional.
For those of you who are already certified and are struggling to move your careers forward, I strongly recommend that you look into rounding out your skill set, not so much with more technical certifications, but perhaps by adding project management or business analysis skills to your certifications. There are a number of sources for you to obtain training and development in project management and business skills. For example, through the Project Management Institute (PMI), the leading professional association in the area of project management, you can acquire the Project Management Professional (PMP) certification. CompTIA offers IT Project+ certification to validate your critical knowledge of business practices, interpersonal skills and project management. For business skills training, CDI Education Corp. offers a series of high-level, interactive courses covering such topics as leadership, communication skills, improving business processes and more. These certifications and training can go a long way toward ensuring your career security and can greatly increase your chances of being able to move up in an organization into supervisory and managerial positions.
The career path to the top, for those who are interested, can no longer be a career path based solely on an understanding of technology. If you aspire to run an IT organization or perhaps move on to be a chief information officer (CIO), you must have the ability to manage and track projects, understand business requirements and justify the organization’s investment in IT. These skills, coupled with the understanding of the technology, will be the recipe for the CIO of the future.
Martin Bean is the chief operating officer for New Horizons Computer Learning Centers Inc., the world’s largest computer training company.