Competing in a Global Employment Market
There are a variety of studies and surveys out right now debating the state of the IT industry and prospects for employment in the coming years. If you were to read them all, you might conclude that, well, the sum total of the findings was inconclusive. Some indicate that IT is one of the hottest fields right now, and hiring is entering a phase of long-term sustained growth. Still others maintain that trends like outsourcing and automation will limit the number of available IT positions domestically and drive technology professionals to other industries.
I won’t seek to promote or disparage this or that study, or try to hash out a definitive economic prediction based on all of their results. I’ll reassert what many of you already know: The competition in today’s job market has been internationalized and mechanized. Indeed, not only are you vying with workers on the other side of the world for jobs—in some cases, challengers for your position aren’t even flesh-and-blood human beings! Let’s take a look at what you can do to remain competitive in this employment environment.
A Sketch of the American IT Worker
In assessing how American IT professionals can compete in a dynamic and constantly shifting job market, it may be helpful to consider their strengths and weaknesses. First, the good news: IT practitioners in the United States are among the most productive, entrepreneurial and experienced in the world. Techies in this country tend to put a great deal of time and energy into their vocational performance, and work longer hours than employees in most other developed nations. Also, when it comes to innovation, no other group of people comes close. The personal computer, the operating system and the Internet all came from the United States, and we’ve improved and enhanced these technologies at a speed unparalleled in the history of human civilization.
However, we’re not without our share of problems. Education is one notable area of concern. Many veteran IT workers in the United States have little more than a high school diploma and are frequently lacking in their comprehension of subjects outside of tech. Additionally, in a recent international test, our 15-year-olds placed 24th out of 29 in math among member nations of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (in other words, the same developed countries whose IT professionals work fewer hours than ours). Their knowledge of science also was well below the 29-nation average.
Those high incomes that American IT professionals command are frequently a liability as well. Why should business owners continue to pay your salary if they can get the same level of service at a cheaper price by sending your job to China, India or the Philippines, or by devising codes that perform the same tasks you do? Remember, their obligation is to themselves and their stakeholders, not you. (Don’t shoot the messenger on this one: CertMag doesn’t make the rules—we only write about them.)
Turn Weaknesses into Strengths
Even though your high earnings might make you a burden to your organization, I wouldn’t suggest you volunteer for a pay cut. Most IT professionals aren’t overpaid, but their salaries are often high when compared with the costs of automation and offshoring.
You can turn that problem to your advantage by investing in yourself. The word “invest” is used quite deliberately here, as you can use that money to acquire knowledge and skills that will eventually bring you more income. As long as your company is willing to pay you, you should be willing to further your professional development. IT certification is a good place to start, but credentialing programs are just one of the many options available. Highly focused stand-alone training courses and self-paced instructional materials that cover a particular tool or solution are a viable alternative.
Another possibility is going to college. You could study computer science, but you shouldn’t feel obligated to do so. In a job market where IT professionals are increasingly encouraged to enhance their soft skills and knowledge of organizational process, it might not be a bad idea to consider majoring in business, communications, English, or anything else that might expand your horizons. Some techies might think they’re too old to go back to school. If Rodney Dangerfield can do it, so can you.
Using your money to improve your professional skills and knowledge makes good financial sense. Expenses related to vocational learning are tax-deductible. Also, you’re making use of resources— innumerable educational offerings and large amounts of disposable income—that most of your overseas competitors simply cannot draw on. Most importantly, though, by strengthening your skill sets and adding new ones, you differentiate yourself in the labor market, bolster job security and increase your chances of achieving coveted raises, bonuses and promotions.
Brian Summerfield is associate editor for Certification Magazine. Send him your favorite study tips and tech tricks at firstname.lastname@example.org.