Workers turn to IT skills training amid layoffs

IT professionals looking to survive a potential company layoff, or find employment if already jobless, are turning to certifications to improve their marketability in the eyes of employers.

The job market is different from what it once was and IT professionals must change their approach to job hunting, said Jason Eckert, faculty head for technology with Toronto-based TriOS College. “Certification is a must nowadays. Someone who got a job 10 years ago could find a job without certification,” he said.

Eckert said that in the last six months, there has seen a surge in interest among the IT community to get refreshed on IT skills at TriOS College, which offers IT courses in the form of co-op and intensive programs or single courses. Half of returning individuals have already launched an IT career, and half of those are seasoned professionals, said Eckert.

Among the top IT skills that are most in demand among employers, said Eckert, are those regarding messaging and security like Microsoft Exchange and Blackberry. With requirements like the length of time that e-mails must be archived, becoming familiar with laws like message compliance is increasingly important, said Eckert. And the fact that new messaging platforms are increasingly focused on security has resulted in new security terminology that “if you touched an e-mail server 10 years ago, you would not know at all, it’s a huge new world,” he said.

There is also plenty of demand for database design, management and creation skills. According to Eckert, successful businesses today hinge on being able to mine large stores of data to reap information like customer preferences. “Databases aren’t just for accounting anymore. They’re for every type of application that is being deployed today.”

He’s also observing ample interest among employers for open source technology skills like Linux, given the huge adoption of open source in the past two to three years among businesses.

Whether returning IT professionals are choosing to upgrade their skills in open source, messaging or database, Eckert said the main driver is to get more competitive. “It’s a shrewder market out there … IT is growing at a very healthy rate but that doesn’t mean companies will hire just anybody. They want specific skills.”


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IT professionals are looking for “quick papers” to prove they possess the skills they have, said James Brouwer, distance education support specialist for IT training with Toronto-based George Brown College. “The concerns are if they have to change jobs or go to another company, they’ve got no paperwork,” he said. “There are a lot of people who are terrified they’re going to get laid off.”

There has been a noticeable spike in returning professionals since last fall, the seniority levels ranging anywhere from two to 18 years, said Brouwer, who has generally categorized the professionals into two groups. In one group are those who have built a career in IT but without formal training. In another are those who possess the formal training but are limited by their antiquated skills.

While Eckert has noticed network administration skills aren’t as hot as they used to be, Brouwer said the greatest interest at George Brown among professionals who lack formal training is network administration, and to a lesser degree, programming.

Other focus areas include certifications including Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer, Cisco, Unix and CompTIA, as well as help desk scenarios. “These are the ones that we’ve found have really increased in numbers over the last six months,” said Brouwer.

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“Most of these guys have been in the industry,” he said. “They know everything and they go through the course in 20 to 30 days and they’re done.”

The trained professionals with outmoded skills at George Brown are typically looking for higher-end networking skills like Active Directory, he said.

While IT professionals are finding it immensely valuable to upgrade their technical skills, there is also focus on polishing interpersonal skills, said Sylvia Teichtmeister, dean of the school of continuing education and SheridanCorporate at Toronto-based Sheridan College.

In recent years, Teichtmeister has observed a greater number of IT professionals engage in soft skills training because while they “are often very strong technically in their professional pursuits, they are finding themselves sometimes with gaps in the leadership skills, communication skills.”

IT projects today generally require a broader perspective, said Teichtmeister, and skills like teamwork, collaboration and leadership serve the IT professional well.

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