10 hot IT skills for 2013

The number of companies planning to hire tech professionals continues to grow, with 33% of the 334 IT executives who responded to Computerworld's 2013 Forecast survey saying they plan to increase head count in the next 12 months.

This is the third year in a row that the percentage of respondents with hiring plans has risen -- up from 29% last year, 23% in 2010 and 20% in 2009.

"When you look at just about any research or market trend, IT is one of the top two or three always mentioned as a bright spot in the job market, and it's pretty simple why," says John Reed, senior executive director at staffing firm Robert Half Technology. "When you look at technology, it drives so much of what business does, from productivity to communication to improving speed to making better business decisions. So companies are investing in that, and you have to have the people experienced in doing that."

Of course, IT leaders aren't hiring technologists indiscriminately. They're seeking specific skills to deliver what the business needs to compete today. Here's a look at the top 10 skills for 2013.

1. Programming and Application Development

" 60% plan to hire for this skill in the next 12 months.

Companies put off projects during the recession, but now they're playing catch-up and looking for staff to keep up, according to Reed.

"Technology and software are great ways for companies to improve productivity, lower costs and create better Web presence," he says, adding that companies will need staffers to create new and better technology to do those things.

That's the case at San Francisco-based Wells Fargo, says Jason Griffin, vice president and technology talent acquisition manager. "Our top needs are in programming and application development," he says. "We're just looking for more to meet the business need. The business [units] are investing in new products, they're looking for ways to provide products and services to meet customer needs."

Griffin, like others, says he's specifically looking for people with experience in Java, J2EE and .Net.

2. Project Management

" 40% plan to hire for this skill in the next 12 months.

The ongoing need for project management skills tracks with the continuing need for programmers: Both are responses to the demand for new applications that businesses need to compete.

"More projects mean more project managers," Reed says, noting that companies want experience as well as credentials, such as the Project Management Professional designation.

Jamie Hamilton, vice president of software engineering at Detroit-based Quicken Loans, says project manager jobs will be among the 100 new positions his company plans to add to its 800-strong IT team.

Hamilton says demand for project managers is strong in part because projects are growing more complex as the connectivity between applications increases.

Successful candidates need to have proven track records. "Three things are key for us, and they're more around behavior: Are you a leader, and do you operate as a leader? Do you have a history of executing? What's your behavior around detail?" Hamilton says.

3. Help Desk/Technical Support

" 35% plan to hire for this skill in the next 12 months.

Jack Wolf, vice president and CIO at Montefiore Medical Center in New York, says he has a list of initiatives to pursue, including deployments of new radiology systems and electronic health record applications. To ensure success, he's looking not only for people to build and implement the systems, but also for tech support workers to help employees use them.

"New systems mean you need more help desk people to handle the increase in calls we expect," Wolf says.

He's far from the only one searching for such skills. Tech staffing firm Modis reports that help desk technician is the job title that companies most often seek help filling.

4. Security

" 27% plan hire for this skill in the next 12 months.

Security has long been a concern of IT leaders, and demand for specialized security professionals is growing as the task of safeguarding systems and data becomes increasingly complex.

Consider the case of Netherlands-based Royal Philips Electronics, which has U.S. headquarters in Andover, Mass.

Cynthia Burkhardt, vice president of talent acquisition, says the company is building its IT security department internationally. It hired a chief information security officer, who is based in the Netherlands, and it's adding four more IT security executives -- two of whom will be based in the U.S. She says the company expects to continue building its IT security team from the top down.

Burkhardt says Royal Philips wants experienced IT security professionals who have business acumen in addition to expertise in deploying firewalls, threat detection tools, encryption technology and other security systems.

5. Business Intelligence/Analytics

" 26% plan to hire for this skill in the next 12 months.

Big data is one of the top priorities for many companies, but getting the right people to analyze all that information is challenging, says Jerry Luftman, managing director at the Global Institute for IT Management and a leader in the Society for Information Management.

The best candidates have technical know-how, business knowledge and strong statistical and mathematical backgrounds -- an uncommon mix of skills, Luftman says. In fact, some companies are hiring statisticians and teaching them about technology and business.

Joe Fuller, CIO at Dominion Enterprises, a marketing services company in Norfolk, Va., says he anticipates hiring data scientists or data analysts in the future but acknowledges that it will be a challenge.

"We're missing that person who thinks outside the box, who understands the link between this behavior now and this behavior later," Fuller says. "I don't know who to look for there, so I think it's [going to be] a team. I can't imagine finding that in one person."

6. Cloud/SaaS

" 25% plan to hire for this skill in the next 12 months.

Fuller's staffing plan at Dominion Enterprises is also a case study for skill No. 6, which didn't even crack the top 10 in the 2011 survey: He says the company will need cloud computing experts as it moves beyond its two existing data centers.

"We're going to need a cloud architect who knows how to leverage and how to architect without breaking the bank," he says. "We're going to need to know where we should host it, how to configure it, how to negotiate the [service-level agreements], and to make sure we're backed up properly."

7. Virtualization

" 24% plan to hire for this skill in the next 12 months.

Jon A. Biskner, assistant vice president of IT at Nicolet National Bank in Green Bay, Wis., says he wants to create a virtualization administrator position.

"It's hard to find someone who is fully skilled in virtualization," Biskner says. "They have to understand the storage and clusters behind the virtual server because before the connection was more physical; now it's more logical." IT professionals talk about virtualization, he adds, but often they don't have a breadth of experience with it.

8. Networking

" 19% plan to hire for this skill in the next 12 months.

Networking expertise remains a perennial top 10 most-wanted skill, although demand has dropped from 38% in the 2010 survey to 19% in the 2013 survey. Despite the decline, however, IT leaders say they still need networking professionals who have solid experience.

In Robert Half Technology's third-quarter IT Hiring Index and Skills Report, network administration was the No. 2 most sought-after skill set, cited by 48% of the 1,400 CIOs surveyed. It was second only to data/database management, which was cited by 55% of the respondents.

9. Mobile Applications and Device Management

" 19% plan to hire for this skill in the next 12 months.

As consumer and business use of smartphones and tablets expands, employers are looking for workers who can handle the demands related to the proliferation of such devices, says Motti Fine, managing director of TreeTop Technologies, an IT staffing and consulting firm. Case in point: Kathy Junod, senior director of IT at Auxilium Pharmaceuticals in Malvern, Pa., plans to create a new job with the title mobile manager to add to her existing staff of 22. She says she needs an experienced manager to oversee building the niche mobile apps the business needs.

10. Data Center

" 16% plan to hire for this skill in the next 12 months.

Core technical skills remain in high demand, so it's not surprising that data center skills still make the top 10. In fact, CompTIA reported in its February State of the IT Skills Gap study that server/data center management and storage and data backup remain high on the list of IT skills that employers are seeking. Some 61% of the IT and business executives surveyed by CompTIA rated server/data center management as a very important skill, while 57% rated storage/data backup as such.

However, Robert Half Technology's third-quarter IT Hiring Index and Skills Report found that CIOs listed data/database management as No. 2 among the "functional areas" in which it's most challenging to hire IT professionals.

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IT Hiring Trends

Stuck in a Recession Mindset?

An increasing number of IT executives say they plan to hire, yet when asked in the Forecast 2013 survey about their companies' business priorities, attracting new talent came in dead last.

Motti Fine, managing director of TreeTop Technologies, explains the dichotomy, saying that companies think they can afford to be choosy.

"Companies can do with an open position for some time," Fine says. "Are we getting to a point where that could be problematic? Hopefully, but we don't see any sense of urgency yet."

A change could be under way, however.

ManpowerGroup's seventh annual Talent Shortage Survey, released in May, found that 49% of U.S. employers are having trouble filling mission-critical positions. It also found that IT staff is the third-hardest job category to fill in 2012.

Jack Cullen, president of tech staffing firm Modis, says companies are looking for ideal candidates that simply don't exist. "That's because people have a recession mindset," he says.

But they're going to have to break out of that mentality, he adds -- or miss out on great hires. "Today, there's limited talent available, and when it's available, you have to move quickly because you're not the only person looking at that talent," Cullen explains. "People will have to realize that there isn't the ideal out there, that if they see someone they like, they have to pull that trigger. And I think we're going to see that, see the interview process shortened as we go into 2013, because everything is supply and demand. Right now, demand outpaces supply for IT positions. And coming into the fall -- those are strong months for hiring -- I expect we'll see those quicker decisions."

This story, "10 hot IT skills for 2013" was originally published by Computerworld.

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