IT staff need to keep improving technical skills

While technical abilities in information technology are traditionally a good indicator of success, in the ever changing world IT constant self-improvement is of paramount importance. A recent poll of 270 Canadian corporate CIOs commissioned by RHI Consulting agrees.

The study, conducted in June, asked the CIOs where their IT staff could stand to make the most improvement. Thirty per cent said technical skills remains the area in need of the most work while verbal skills ranked second at 21 per cent. Project management came in a strong third at 18 per cent and organizational skills came in at fourth at 16 per cent. Interpersonal abilities, at nine per cent, rounded out the field.

The high ranking for improving technical skills didn’t surprise Stephen Mill, senior regional manager at RHI Consulting in Toronto.

“When technical skills came back as number one at 30 per cent, (I thought) aren’t these technical people to begin with? (But) it’s because the technology moves so quickly that no matter where you are at from a skills level you can never be on top of everything that is new,” he said.

For everyone from an entry-level individual to a senior employee, remaining on the cutting edge of technology is important. IT continues to be an industry where those who peer through the frosted window have invariably fallen behind.

Mill also said the appearance of, and demand for, communication skills represents an important shift. “How well can a person articulate the inner workings of an IT department to a non-technical person? It’s critical,” he said.

Don Whitty, president at Mosaic Technology Corp. in Miramichi, N.B., agreed softer skills have an important role to play in IT.

“I’m a firm believer in good old fashioned communication, letting people understand what the problem is and providing an alternative solution for the duration of the problem,” Whitty said. He added that it was no great surprise to see technical skills come out on top, but said in his experience, people often have outdated skills or limited expertise.

He said the most valuable attribute an employee can possess today is flexibility. “The ability to pick something up, grab a book or a piece of software and make it work almost immediately (is a great benefit). Those kinds of people are hard to come by.”

The gap between IT and business staff may also be shrinking, as the latter within organizations are becoming more technically inclined and can sometimes fix or troubleshoot problems on their own. Whitty said it’s a question of IT becoming a little more human and the average worker becoming technologically adept.

Brian Westbrook agrees that IT faces a difficult task in trying to remain current with all of the evolving changes. “I would suggest it is because of the rapid changes in technology…it’s terribly hard to keep up and we’re grappling with that all of the time,” said the business analyst at Portage Mutual Insurance in Portage la Prairie, Man.

As a part-time professor, Westbrook said he is constantly changing his lesson plans to reflect new software implementations. He added that IT has historically shied away from the importance of soft skills.