IDC: Networking tops list of IT skills

On behalf of the Software Human Research Council (SHRC), IDC Canada Ltd. polled 414 senior IT professionals from across Canada in Q4 2003 regarding the IT skills their organizations needed most. There was a resounding answer — networking.

The top five IT skills Canadian companies are seeking, in order, include TCP/IP, proficiency with Microsoft Corp.’s Windows XP, Windows 2000/ME, security skills and knowledge of Microsoft’s SQL server, according to the survey released Wednesday.

These results compare to a Q1 2002 IDC survey of 252 senior IT professionals and HR professionals in Ontario. The top skills sought by employers at the time were: Microsoft SQL Server, security skills, Windows NT Server, Microsoft Exchange and wide area networking. Results were similar for the three regions indicated by IDC Canada: western Canada, Ontario and eastern Canada.

Now, skills needed by medium and large Canadian companies fall into the areas of infrastructure, reliability and security, said Julie Kaufman, director, Canadian professional services research at IDC Canada in Toronto.

Additionally, because three of the top five skills relate to Microsoft products, IT workers will need to have some level of Microsoft skills to succeed, Kaufman added. There are over 500,000 IT professionals in Canada.

While the demand for IT skills is down overall since IDC’s study in 2002, the latest research indicates that the demand for networking skills has increased and the demand for messaging skills has decreased. Other findings include an increased need for IT professionals familiar with Windows XP, while the demand for Linux experts is up only modestly, except within smaller organizations (less than 100 employees).

The demand for enterprise application skills with products from SAP AG, Oracle Corp. and Siebel Systems Inc. has dropped considerably since 2002. Also, the need for Web development skills has dropped across the board with the exception of .Net remaining flat. Additionally, demand for development tool and database skills has also declined.

“Spending on IT has changed both in terms of how much and the scope,” Kaufman explained. “Canadian companies are focused on getting more out of their systems.”

Simply because a company has increased its IT budget doesn’t mean it will spend more on skills development or new hires, Kaufman added. The study found that companies with higher IT budgets in 2004 over 2003 only have a modest increase in demand for IT skills and tend to have network-focused requirements. Firms with smaller IT budgets in 2004 over 2003 have a smaller need for IT skills overall and a higher demand for those skilled in Windows XP, Microsoft Exchange and Visual Basic.

In vertical markets, financial services companies had the greatest demand for IT skills, while manufacturing had the least need. Infrastructure companies, such as media outlets, had a greater demand for Microsoft Windows skills relative to other verticals, while the public sector still looked for employees proficient with COBOL.

Also, the number of companies reporting a lack of qualified candidates for IT positions has decreased since the 2002 survey. In Q4 of 2003 only 25.2 per cent of companies said a skills shortage existed, 22.5 per cent said they weren’t sure, while 52.3 per cent said no. In Q1 of 2002, 32.1 per cent insisted a skills shortage abounded, while 33.3 per cent couldn’t decide and 34.55 per cent said no.

However these statistics don’t solve the problem of getting IT people the skills they need to be successful.

Paul Swinwood, president of the SHRC, said because new software has an average half-life of 18 months, IT professionals need to upgrade their skills continuously.

“Candidates coming out [of school] today have a challenge of [knowing] what they will be working on in five years,” Swinwood said. “Most IT professionals work hard and when they look up two years later, that’s when they notice what they’ve missed.”

Interestingly, the demand for IT certification has dropped since 2002. Companies ask for more certification from its managerial and senior IT staff as opposed to intermediate- and junior-level employees. However, increasingly intermediate IT staff are being asked for certification as well. As a result, these findings lead IDC to extrapolate that employers seem to be looking for experience rather than education.

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