Training For Industry-Specific Knowledge

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Last year, IT consultant firm Robert Half Technology (RHT) polled 1,400 chief information officers (CIOs) from U.S. companies, asking “If two candidates interviewing for an IT position had similar skills, what additional qualification would you find the most valuable?”


A plurality of respondents — 43 percent — did not answer certification in a relevant technology, soft skills, an IT-related undergraduate degree or an MBA but rather industry-specific experience. This is the most frustrating attribute you can’t get without already having it, the Catch-22 any professional in a developing career likely will face.


The question for IT professionals is: How do you train for industry-specific knowledge? Whether it’s health care, finance, manufacturing, government, defense contracting or otherwise, IT pros will need to know about the industry they’re supporting or they desire to support in their eventual employment.


As the RHT poll showed, the best way to gain comprehension of a specific industry is to work within it — you can’t manufacture that experience. But individuals seeking to learn these industries before working within them can, of course, learn them through seeking education at a community college or four-year university. This is not to suggest people who want to serve as a network administrator for a hospital should go ahead and get a nursing degree, but for IT pros who know supporting a specific industry is central to their career goals, college courses related to that field will help synthesize the knowledge that would otherwise come from industry-specific experience. It might just be a particular elective or survey course related to that field.


An IT pro also might consider signing up for an apprenticeship that provides on-the-job-training with related classroom instruction. A similar option is a work-study program, which also pairs workforce development with an academic component to give individuals the skills necessary for employment in particular industries.


Beyond this, there are things you can do to familiarize yourself with an industry in which you haven’t worked. Read trade magazines and other business-to-business publications related to the industry in question and attend some trade shows, as well. Go to Web sites for magazines and associations related to your chosen field and sign up for any free subscriptions, newsletter mailings or listservs they provide.


Following trends in the industry you seek to serve and making connections with those working within it will help enormously in terms of making inroads in that industry. It might not be something you can list on your resume, but it puts you on a path toward supporting that industry and helps you prepare for interviewing and working within it.


The following are some ideas for training in regard to a variety of industries an IT pro might seek to serve:


Health care: Here an IT pro is going to face a long list of issues related to the privacy and confidentiality of the information being processed, which might include patients’ medical records. Security is already fast becoming the No. 1 priority in IT, and in health care, training toward a security skill set would be even more invaluable.


Finance: Anyone looking to serve financial institutions as an IT pro should consider taking at least one or two economics classes. Economics has become the most popular major at U.S. colleges and universities in recent years and with good reason: Studying the so-called “dismal science” prepares a person for virtually any job and is particularly helpful in grasping the complexities of financial markets.


Manufacturing: Manufacturing is an industry gradually being shipped overseas piece by piece, so IT pros seeking to work within it might consider learning to speak a second language — say Spanish or, even better, Chinese — to make themselves more marketable to firms adapting to the complexities of a global economy.


Government: Here the name of the game surely is bureaucracy, as well as regulations, and plenty of both. Strong knowledge of the way governments function definitely would be helpful, so two or three political science courses would be in order. Reading the local newspaper every day is going to help, as well. Not that an IT pro supporting government is dabbling in politics, but learning the culture of the government an IT pro seeks to serve will help.


Defense contracting: Again, security will be heavily stressed, as much of the information being processed likely will be classified. There’s probably no better way to train for knowledge specific to the defense industry than to join a branch of the Armed Forces, working with computers and technology. As strange as that might sound, someone who had served in the Army as a computer technician likely could move anywhere within the defense industry as an IT pro. An alternative is to seek out an internship with the U.S. Department of Defense, which would bring many of the benefits of serving in the Armed Forces with less of the risk.

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