Staying Ahead of the Offshoring Curve

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Offshoring is like the villain in that fairy tale that you’re not supposed to name for fear you’ll bring the beast to life. But it is a reality for today’s IT professional, and the speak-no-evil tactic probably won’t work to keep your job safe. However, there are things that you can do to reduce the likelihood that you will have to suffer this indignity.

Don’t Ignore the Issue

Awareness can play an important part if you plan to avoid the chop from this particular axe. Katherine Spencer Lee, executive director at Robert Half Technology, an IT recruiting firm, said it’s critical that you stay abreast of the issues that surround offshoring and keep on top of new information by reading trade publications and looking at research from organizations such as Gartner, Meta and Forrester.

“I think sometimes, out of concern, people see something that’s a little worrisome to them and they go, ‘Oh, I’m not going to read that. It will depress me,’” Lee said. “You need to make sure you read things and stay up-to-date on what’s happening.”

Reskill and Upskill

Keep your technical skills strong and make sure that you focus on creative or cutting-edge skills, which are less likely to be offshored. Security is a good example of an IT area in high demand. “Companies are looking for people who can assess and remedy security issues and system vulnerabilities,” Lee said. “In Bill Gates’ book ‘The Road Ahead,’ he says that technology reinvents itself every nine months. You’ve got to reinvent yourself along with technology. If you don’t, you have a higher probability of what you do being offshored.”

Other areas such as data storage, business intelligence and project management also are offshore-resistant. “How do you take the data that your company has collected and turn it into dollars using tools like Business Objects, Crystal Reports or SAS? Other (hot areas) would be things that pertain to the .NET platform, and we’ve seen an uptick for individuals who have SQL skills,” Lee said.

Soft skills and business acumen also are critical. “Soft skills and business skills are almost required for IT professionals because the people who are entering the workforce right now had computers in the classroom,” Lee said. “Being able to communicate with technical and non-technical individuals and yet have those non-technical people be a lot more technically savvy, you have to have good soft skills. You also have to have good business skills because the business comes to you saying, ‘Here’s our issue. Help us solve it.’”

“The types of jobs that are being offshored are what they call rules-based jobs—jobs that you can put into an if/then category decision tree, so that it can be fairly automated by computer, our favorite thing to deal with when we call on the phone to a tape recording,” said Gretchen Koch, director of skills development programs for CompTIA (the Computing Technology Industry Association).

Koch said that jobs that require human interaction in order to execute problem resolution or technical maintenance, or jobs that require expertise in soft skills, people management or high-level sales are farther out on the offshoring orbit. “All of those jobs will continue because of the unique role that humans play,” she said. “High-level software programming jobs and gaming—those are very much in demand and won’t be offshored.”

Think Creatively

Don’t limit yourself by pursuing only one skill area. It’s okay to have mastery in something, but it’s smart to create the right kind of marketable combinations that will appeal to prospective or current employers who might be dancing on the offshoring fence.

“Too many people tend to pigeonhole their opportunities,” Koch said. “If I’ve got a computer science degree and XYZ certification, (people say) ‘I need to find a job at HP, or I need to find a job at IBM or Microsoft.’ They don’t realize they can be the network administrator at the local hospital or work inside a wonderful job at the local bank. IT is ubiquitous. There are jobs in every kind of industry you can imagine. Think, ‘What’s something that I personally am really interested in?’ Maybe you are interested in health care and IT. Well, you can get a job that combines both of those interests.”

Then, if you have expertise in one area, you can combine it with an area that’s in demand, create your own job function and increase your marketability and your employment options. “If you have expertise in a generic brand of IT, say you’re a whiz at database administration or network administration, if you combine that with a certification in security like the Security+ or combine that with a certification in project management, you’re not only reskilling and upskilling, you’ve created a job role that’s very much in demand,” Koch said.

Kellye Whitney, kellyew@certmag.com

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