Focus on High-Growth Industries: Find Opportunities

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I recently had the opportunity to moderate a panel addressing how we can most effectively and efficiently train and retrain an IT workforce for the 21st century. This is a major issue for America’s workforce as technology touches almost every job that exists. We often think about the IT industry as being restricted to those of us who work for IT organizations or carry out mainstream IT jobs, such as network engineering or help-desk support. However, there is an entirely new phenomenon affecting not just the U.S. economy, but also just about every developed economy in the world, and that is that technology underpins virtually every industry.


Alan Greenspan, Federal Reserve chairman, has said a number of times that innovative technology is required for American workers to become more efficient. In a recent monetary policy report to Congress, he stated that continued increases in worker efficiency and productivity are needed for our economy to regain substantial growth. So what does all of this mean? Basically, it means that there should be more jobs for those of us skilled in technology and more opportunities than ever before to grow beyond what we have traditionally thought of as the IT industry. However, upon speaking to many IT professionals, they don’t get the sense that this is the case. If technology really is changing virtually every job and is requiring that workers at all levels get new skills, why is it that so many IT professionals are still struggling to advance in their careers or find new opportunities?


An answer lies in the fact that the more technology becomes entrenched in every industry, the more it becomes important that IT professionals develop their skills around the technology itself. One example of a fast-emerging field requiring specialized IT skills is the geospatial industry. According to the Geospatial Workforce Development Center at the University of Southern Mississippi, the geospatial industry is “an information technology field of practice that acquires, manages, interprets, integrates, displays, analyzes or otherwise uses data focusing on the geographic, temporal and spatial context.” A result of the rapid growth in this technical field is a significant lack of professionals and trained specialists to support the industry.


According to Emily Stover DeRocco, assistant secretary for employment and training at the U.S. Department of Labor, “The geospatial technology industry has a current worldwide market of about $5 billion, and is growing by 10 to 13 percent per year, a growth rate that is expected to continue throughout this decade. The market is projected to have annual revenues of $30 billion by 2005. A survey of geospatial product and service providers revealed that 87 percent of respondents said they had difficulty filling positions requiring geospatial technology skills.” This clearly represents a huge opportunity for IT professionals willing to invest in acquiring these specialized skills.


Another example of an industry with expansive opportunities for IT professionals who understand the specific technology used is the health care industry. Information technology touches almost every function within the health care industry today, from ensuring the right drugs are delivered to the right patients to accessing patient records and ensuring the security of those records. However, many believe that IT needs to be even more entrenched within the health care industry to ensure quality of care. According to U.S. Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson, “The nation’s health-care delivery system needs to incorporate business practices used in other industries more widely, especially information technology.” President Bush’s budget proposal requesting $100 million for new business-technology projects related to health care supports this initiative.


It is clear to me that just as technology changes the way almost every job is done, all workers, including IT professionals, need new skills. The challenge is that those skills are not necessarily understanding or comprehending the next operating system or the next new development language or database. To take advantage of the new economy and get the jobs of the 21st century, IT professionals need to develop their skills beyond the technology and focus more on the high-growth industries that are dependent on technology to thrive. If we can figure out a way to do that, we have solved the problem of where career advancement exists, where the greatest income earnings potential is and where we may find a fascinating and enriching vocation that we never even knew existed.


Martin Bean is the chief operating officer for New Horizons Computer Learning Centers, the world’s largest independent IT training company.

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