Hot Jobs & Skills for 2007

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2007 promises to be a strong year for IT job seekers with the right technical skill sets. The first wave of baby boomers turned 60 in 2006, and while these IT veterans are beginning to retire, the number of people entering the computer field is declining rapidly. According to the Education Research Institute at UCLA, interest among prospective students in computer science as a major dropped 70 percent between 2001 and 2005.

This massive decline in the supply of future IT workers, combined with the aging IT population, might spell trouble for U.S. global competitiveness down the road. But it’s good news for techies who wish to move up within their IT departments or for those who seek entry-level IT jobs — although supply might be down, the demand for IT workers continues to grow.

According to a recent survey of 140 chief information officers by the Society for Information Management (SIM), nearly two-thirds of technology executives plan to maintain or increase the size of their IT staff in 2007. The increasing need for IT professionals possessing technical skills across the board is being fueled by a U.S. economy that continued to grow in 2006. As the economy improved, businesses expanded, and with this economic expansion, companies have started to invest again in IT projects that were stalled or put on hold because of shrinking IT department budgets in previous years.

Concerns Over Outsourcing Exaggerated
Since the 2001 dot-com crash, there has been seemingly endless hype that IT jobs are being shipped in droves offshore. According to today’s conventional wisdom, however, these claims were exaggerated. The conclusion of most organizations that track such statistics is about 5 percent of all IT jobs have been displaced by foreign workers. Most jobs that are being outsourced are lower-level coding jobs, technical support positions or call-center work — the most difficult IT work is likely to remain in the United States. According to the September 2006 SIM report, only 3.3 percent of 2007 corporate IT budgets have been allocated to offshore outsourcing programs.

So, what are the hottest IT skills for 2007? That, of course, depends.

Robert Half Technology Report
The most recent and comprehensive study of the IT employment outlook was completed by international IT staffing firm Robert Half Technology. Its 2007 Salary Guide extrapolates data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics and a survey Robert Half conducted of more than 1,400 CIOs from companies with 100-plus employees. The guide breaks down the 50 states into nine regions, and it gives a hint as to which IT skill sets will be most sought after in 2007 for each part of the country.

The overall employment outlook is good. According to the report, 13 percent of IT executives plan to hire IT workers in the coming quarter, while only 3 percent plan on reducing their IT staff.

From a national standpoint, the report predicts the following 12 technical skills will be most needed in 2007 based on companies’ probable investment in network security, Web applications, wireless communication, business intelligence, regulatory requirements and capital expenditures. The skill sets are listed in order of perceived demand:

1. Windows administration (Server 2000/2003)

2. Network administration (Cisco, Nortel and Novell

3. Database management (Oracle, SQL Server and DB2)

4. Wireless network management

5. Firewall administration

6. Business intelligence/reporting services

7. .NET development

8. XML development

9. ERP implementation (Oracle/Peoplesoft, SAP, Lawson)

10. Linux administration

11. Java development

12. CRM implementation

Hot IT Jobs
Don’t confuse hot IT skills with hot IT jobs. While the 12 skill sets listed above represent a sort of wish list by America’s IT executives, the Robert Half report points out in the beginning of its salary guide that the “job category experiencing the most growth within IT departments is help desk/end-user support.” Help desk and end-user support jobs can be found in abundance everywhere. And not only has the demand for these positions increased substantially over the last year, but the pay has increased nicely, as well. Just a year ago, A+ Certified professionals in the Kansas City, Mo., area were commanding only $12 an hour on average. Today, many schools don’t have enough students to fill recruiters’ requests for these tech support positions, and the average graduate is starting between $16 and $21 per hour. Not bad for someone entering the IT field. As Patrick Draney, placement coordinator for Kansas City-based Midwest Consulting Group, said, “If you are A+ certified and can’t find an entry-level help desk job, you either have a felony on your record, or you are wearing the wrong deodorant.”

Experience Important but Not Essential
Most IT salary and skills reports are quick to point out that experience within a given technical area is essential to finding a job in today’s IT market.

Although there is certainly no substitute for the real-world skills gained through years of on-the-job experience, in many technical areas suffering from a shortage of veteran IT workers, recent graduates have little difficulty securing a job upon completion of a certification or IT education program.

For example, the entire country is witnessing an explosion in the demand for .NET developers. The last two Centriq Foss C#.Net IT career tracks, which primarily consisted of students with only basic end-user skills and no programming experience, have enjoyed a 100 percent placement rate. One graduate of the last .NET career track — a 60-year-old former COBOL programmer with no object-oriented programming experience — received employment offers from the first two companies with which he interviewed. Despite the fact that his IT experience was in a different and outdated language, both employers took his years of COBOL experience into consideration when making him an offer for a .NET application developer position. He started his career at a 20 percent higher salary than he had earned at the peak of his COBOL career. In 2007, the shortage of workers with skills in the latest technical tools such as .NET and wireless networking is allowing certified individuals with no prior IT experience to get jobs. These inexperienced, recent graduates’ compensation, however, is considerably less than the pay received by IT workers who possess the skills and have work experience in the field. A seasoned application developer in the Midwest typically will start in the $75,000 range, whereas a newly trained and/or certified .NET developer with no IT experience will most likely find a job — but might start in the low to mid-$40,000 range.

Of course, those trained IT job seekers who are new to the industry are much less likely to have success in their job search if they study technologies that have been around awhile — Java or Oracle, for example.

Jobs in Demand
The ongoing need for entry-level IT talent is being outpaced only by the demand for workers at the other end of the IT spectrum: IT managers. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, this group now makes up 11.2 percent of the entire IT workforce, which represents a 44 percent surge since the 2001 dot-com collapse. Although the overall number of programming and technical support jobs shrank by 200,000 between 2001 and 2006, the U.S. economy generated 119,000 IT managers. According to Eric Chabrow of InformationWeek, “The growth in IT managers isn’t attributable just to small businesses. … Big companies are spreading management responsibility in order to get decisions made faster.”

The demand for last year’s hottest IT commodity — information and network security professionals — continues to remain strong, but compensation for security specialists i

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