Mining a diamond in the rough

Despite a raft of available candidates, IT executives still are finding it tough to find the one person with the right combination of skills and talent.

The combination of high-tech layoffs, diminished demand for new network positions and an uptick in offshore outsourcing created a pool of highly skilled, unemployed IT professionals in the U.S. Yet despite the number of available candidates, many IT managers report they still struggle when trying to fill mission-critical positions such as security manager and network architect.

The positions posing the most challenges today are enterprise-wide project managers and security managers with business knowledge, says David Foote, president and chief research officer for Foote Partners LLC. “Many companies are moving out of the siloed approach to IT and are aligning how they approach IT with their line of business.”

Recent research shows that new technologies such as XML and Linux and business skills such as project management and process knowledge top network managers’ list of must-haves for new hires. Positions such as security manager and IT business planning manager can go unfilled for three months to as long as a year, and industry watchers say part of the reason jobs stay open is because today’s IT professional needs to be more than technically certified.

“If you’re looking at certifications when hiring, those skills don’t tell you how well this candidate can maintain the network you’ve got to support your business,” says Diane Berry, managing vice president for People3 Inc. “It’s important to look at the competencies of the individual: Can they respond quickly to change? Do you they have problem-solving skills?”

Separate surveys released by Foote Partners and People3 show that project management and business process skills are as much in need as high-tech talents such as security management, database administration, XML proficiencies and Web services work. The combination of technical smarts and business savvy might not have been in demand in the past – considering IT remained in the back office of most corporations – but today’s enterprise IT departments are responsible for boosting the company’s bottom line.

“Hiring managers today need to find someone that knows technology but also has some expertise in their line of business,” Foote says. “It’s difficult to move quickly to meet business needs if you have a lot of people with specific skills. Broader capabilities are definitely needed.”

This recent phenomena, the IT specialist as business-savvy manager, is taking hold with employers. Demand and compensation for certifications such as Microsoft Certified Professional and Certified Computing Professional dropped about 13 per cent this year, while pay for certifications in the areas of project management, security, systems administration and engineering, and network operating systems each increased in the past 12 months.

While demand for specific technical expertise such as Oracle database administration is still high, hiring managers say skills listed on a r