Your IT Career & the Recession – MDI Group press release

by Editor 11/26/2008 3:11:00 PM
Failing companies, the financial and housing crisis, rising unemployment rates and inflation have everyone wondering what’s next. “What’s in store for me, my company, my employer, my career?” Some thought the worst was over when the housing crisis led to the federal takeover of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. But then, global titans like Lehman Brothers began to fall. It was soon clear that many more stumbling blocks lie ahead. Who will be next? What other industries will be affected? When do we hit bottom?

While no industry will go unscathed in this historic downturn, there are pockets that appear to be more resilient than others, the IT sector is one. Due to a lean IT workforce and a technology skill shortage, many IT professionals have not yet been exposed to the job market hardships of this downturn. Demand is still high for your knowledge and skills but it’s important to not get complacent, over confident or too comfortable. Now is the time to take active steps to strengthen your value as an employee and promote your skills and assets. Previous downturns offer many lessons into what may lie ahead for the technology sector and its talent base. Take note of recent history lessons and discover what you can do now to remain employable and in-demand despite economic challenges.

Looking Back to Dot-com Troubles

The years leading up to Y2K and the dot-com bust were filled with aggressive IT hiring. Eager to take advantage of the gold-rush mentality of the early Internet days, many companies dismissed standard business models in lieu of a ‘get big fast’ plan. While the momentum was extraordinary, many companies became over-valued and suffered in what is now known as the dot-com bust.

After that bubble burst, organizations realized that IT spending needed to be reigned in and technology initiatives must be aligned to business strategy. Sprawling IT teams and budgets were cut back. ROI and business alignment took a central role in measuring success. The result for a great many businesses was a leaner, more efficient and business savvy IT operation.

IT Employment Now

Despite the many shocks of the market these days, IT employment has held strong. For example, September 2008 proved a dismal month for overall employment but not for the IT sector. September IT employment was up 4.7 percent over the previous year according to the National Association of Computer Consultant Businesses (NACCB). At the same time, unemployment rates for nearly all major sub-categories of IT labor force, as tracked by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, are running at the low end of their past eight-year range.

However, there are also reports of less positive news on the IT front. Recent InformationWeek research shows that 72 percent of businesses plan to cut back on IT hiring. Additionally, 39 percent of companies say their technology budgets have dropped compared to last year, with another 28 percent saying it has stayed the same. So where does this leave you and your career plans when the IT sector anticipates little growth ahead? Let’s take a look.

Where IT Is Heading

The lessons learned from the late nineties will continue to influence the IT sector. As enterprises look for ways to streamline operations and run more efficiently, they will focus on projects that support strategic business initiatives and outsource ‘business-as-usual’ jobs. In addition, companies will increasingly turn to consultants to support critical projects. Instead of building massive in-house functions, many companies are turning to IT professional services firms to provide IT consultants with the skills and flexibility to support evolving needs. According to Staffing Industry Analysts, recent research shows that the industry projecting the greatest contingent workforce growth over the next two years is technology/telecom.

Additionally, IT candidates who possess strong business acumen are the most in demand in today’s economy and will remain so into the future. Organizations need talented professionals who not only have a solid technical understanding, but can also contribute to business initiatives and provide value-added services. Jobs that strictly support ‘business-as-usual’ applications (like regression testing, programmers, developers, etc.) are solely technical assets and the most likely to move offshore.

Career Moves You Can Make Now

The need for technology and innovation is not going anywhere, but IT employees must continue to evolve with the business landscape. To remain in-demand, you will need to make career adjustments that showcase and expand your capabilities. Here are some essential tips to position yourself for success in today’s and tomorrow’s uncertain market:

Build Your Value: As an IT professional, you need to be particularly aware of how the job you are doing ties into the overall company strategy. Not only are you able to offer greater value the more involved you are, but projects that are high-value and high-impact are more likely to survive cuts. Make the effort to market yourself and campaign for those positions to help alleviate the vulnerability of downsizing.

Grow Your Knowledge Base: It is also extremely important to have strong business and industry knowledge. The more you are aware of the IT industry as a whole, as well as the vertical industry you are working within, the more apt you are to offer insight, think outside the box and provide valuable input. Reading industry newsletters and participating in industry-focused associations can help you gain valuable information and also expand your network.

Expand Your Skill-set: Take every opportunity to grow your worth. Make sure you stay current with leading-edge technologies and pursue certifications or further education within a specific functional area.

Identify which vertical industries are doing well versus those that may be struggling in the economy. Retool your skills to match those industries with long-term growth and stability. Ask to get involved in other types of projects that will enhance your skills and be applicable across other industries.

Consider working as a Consultant: As a consultant, IT professionals have the unique opportunity to gain experience in a variety of business settings. They are exposed to various industries and technologies due to the flexibility of their careers and the wide number of industries that leverage IT consulting talent. Consider consulting work if you are looking for ways to continually expand your experience, skills and industry knowledge.

Your Career Is Your Job, Not the Economy’s

The best advice for job market worriers today is to stop wondering what the economy holds and start making the changes you need to remain in-demand and employable. In today’s market, you have to bring value to the table. Look past the technologies you know and the day-to-day tasks you do and focus on what you can achieve: ask questions, get involved, offer solutions, demonstrate your expertise and expand your skills. Certifications, education and knowledge are great, but the ability to translate that knowledge into bottom-line business value is what will bring you long-term career security.

Author: Mike Cleland, MDI Group

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