How to Make Yourself Offshore- Proof

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Recently, VCampus, owner of the CIW certification, conducted Web-based
surveys of its corporate, academic and government customers. Questions on the survey included inquiries related to nonexportable job skills such as:

  • What essential skills do the Web designers and developers you consistently hire lack?
  • What Web-related skills are the most difficult for you to obtain or retain? Why?
  • What Web-related jobs or projects are you most and least likely to outsource? Why?
  • What Web-related job titles does your organization plan to use when recruiting and hiring?

In addition to personally surveying experts around the world, VCampus conducted several Web-based surveys, each targeting more than 12,000 people. Those surveyed are not primarily students — they are active professionals in their field, and more than 10 percent are upper management. As shown in Figure 1, the majority of respondents are 26 to 45 years old.

The majority of these respondents are Web technology experts, managers and executives who have had more than seven years of experience in Web-related professions.

Get the Right Mix of Skills
The results of the survey showed that if you want to get and retain a Web job, you need to hawk your red Swingline stapler from “Office Space” and pick up some soft skills. Survey respondents overwhelmingly indicated Web professionals consistently lack the following:

  • Project management skills.
  • Writing and copy-editing skills.
  • Soft skills, including effective, proactive communication between departments.

Figure 2 provides a breakdown of these and other skills that Web professionals lack.

Although some survey responses mentioned more- technical issues, project management and soft skills dominated the results. Why? More than ever, Web professionals work at all levels of a business. Those who think they’re secure in their jobs because they know the latest technology probably are not as secure as they think. Technology skills are increasingly replaceable, and understanding how your job relates to your business will help you remain secure.

What’s Not Getting Outsourced?

Over the past few years, technical knowledge has become increasingly commodified. Those who can fundamentally understand the needs of their organization will be more secure. The knowledge that will make you attractive, however, includes the following:

  • Marketing. This is the clear leader, but only if the marketer has a technical background. The more you understand how your specialty fits in with your business, the more you’ll remain relevant.
  • Web project management skills. People who land (and keep) lucrative, interesting jobs know not only how to use project management software but how to communicate effectively with multiple company cultures. You might find yourself managing outsourced projects as a liaison between the outsource company and your co-workers.
  • Accessibility design. The industrial world’s population is aging and getting richer. Combine this with long-overdue legislation for those with disabilities, and the ability to creatively design for accessibility will reap premium dollars.
  • E-learning design. Most companies want local talent to design e-learning offerings. Once the design is approved, the Flash and XHTML development often is sent off to various destinations, including India and Eastern Europe.
  • E-commerce marketing analysis. This includes product placement, brand analysis, trend analysis and Web analytics (the ability to measure how well a Web site meets business objectives).
  • Web user interface and Rich Internet Application (RIA) design. Once the interface is designed, the actual coding work might go to an outside source.
  • Search engine optimization/search engine management.
  • Web communications coordination. The Web communications coordinator manages blog writers, who are often known as “online advertisers.”
  • Back-end specialized development (including true database designers with cross-platform skills). This includes high-end database design and development, as well as customer-relationship management (CRM) and inventory systems projects. Although smaller companies find this skill can be outsourced, most companies consider it essential, and it is not likely to fall out of demand.

Not surprisingly, companies found the preceding job roles and skills the most difficult to fulfill. Retaining talented workers was equally difficult.

Companies not only had to pay more for such positions, but they had to make sure employees remained challenged in their fields.

Creativity and Leadership: What Do They Mean Today?
First, it’s hard to define “creativity” when used in the Web profession. Conversations about it tend to get repeated constantly rather than defined instructively. Overall, though, here’s the general definition: In the Web profession, creativity is the ability to use Web-based technology to fulfill the needs of a business. Creativity involves turning seeming limitations and barriers into opportunities. Given this definition, creativity is indeed hard to outsource.

VCampus’ surveys consistently show that the important Web-based jobs will involve cross-functional skills, including marketing, statistical analysis, trend monitoring and soft skills. That’s a fancy way of saying that both business analysis and technical knowledge remain in high demand. New job skills and titles focus less on purely technical abilities and tools and more on business analysis.

The industry will need analytical minds, not just pampered Web experts who sit, self-satisfied, in front of their Macs. The burden will be determining the right mix of skills and then teaching those skills. Further, the future of Web education must include practical implementation and business skills.

For example, one of the more-hyped activities in Web design today is the mash-up: When a Web professional connects services from different, seemingly unrelated or even competing sites to create a compelling service. The mash-up is evidence the Web community remains as creative as ever.

To stay competitive in the workplace as a Web professional, make your Web career a mash-up. Demonstrate the ability to combine multiple talents. To be truly creative, you need to interact with technology but also with customers and your organization’s business concerns.

Increasingly, creativity means not only mastering Flash, PHP or Ajax but understanding and mastering how Web technologies affect your business.

Don’t assume you can avoid learning new technologies. However, the more you know about a business, the less likely your job is to be outsourced. Understanding the business of the Web becomes essential.

Second, it’s hard to outsource leadership, especially when it comes to Web design. Designers need to work closely with clients in a local market.

Although learning project management skills can help you become a leader, you also need a high degree of understanding business processes. Dedicate yourself to understanding these processes and then work hard at building consensus among members of your team.

You quickly will find you have developed a reputation for strategic planning, overcoming objections and turning seemingly nontechnical requests into technical terms. All these skills will make you an indispensable leader.

What Do Offshoring and Outsourcing Mean for Certification?
It’s time certifications honestly deal with the impact of offshoring and outsourcing — a paradigm shift is necessary. It’s time to reframe certification in terms of social networking. The certification community must provide the 21st-century, online version of the professional guilds of the 17th century. Instead of saying, “Get certified, get the job,” it needs to look at certification as a membership to an international community of professionals. It needs to create functional communities and real social networks that help people get and retain essential professional skills.

Certifications should actively include the following:

  • Mentoring. It’s only natural to enable true mentoring programs in which Web newbies can talk with experts.
  • Sharing ideas. Certifications must provide networks through which experts can share ideas with one another, as the neophytes listen. Over time, you’ll see certification programs leverage their communities to become places where people share, critique and improve cutting-edge ideas.

When it comes to conditioning candidates to becoming more creative, certifications should include:

  • Portfolio submissions.
  • Podcasts.
  • Competitions.
  • Wikis.
  • Forums.

Each of these encourages idea sharing, novel thinking and the ability to keep people creative. It might even help generate leaders.

This isn’t enough, however. To help certificants remain competitive and relevant, certification bodies need to provide more than a new road map — they need to provide a meaningful series of connections with their communities.

James Stanger, Ph.D., is the chief certification architect for VCampus, owner of the CIW certification. He can be reached at editor (at) certmag (dot) com.

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