Business skills crunch looming

IT’s mission has shifted from delivering systems to managing the process of delivering them, according to a study by the Society of Information Management (SIM). Within the next two years, companies will need more staff capable of managing projects and working closely with business users.

But many companies still fail to take business training into account when hiring entry-level staff, defaulting to candidates with technical degrees such as computer science and engineering, the report says.

“If you look at computer science and engineering or some management science programs, there’s been an emphasis on the technical skills, like programming,” says Phil Zwieg, VP of IS with Northwestern Mutual, and VP for advocacy and communities of interest with SIM. College curricula, he adds, aren’t changing fast enough to teach skills that businesses really need.

While the colleges try to catch up, company training programs can help fill the gap. The survey found that most companies provide both entry- and mid-level hires with some type of business training. But CIOs also may have to get creative in who they hire to fill upcoming vacancies, such as recruiting business users for IT positions. “I don’t think a company can use just one avenue [for recruitment] anymore,” says Zwieg.

SIM’s survey of 96 executives from 89 companies found that more IT organizations of all sizes plan to expand rather than reduce staffs, although more small and mid-market enterprises expect to add employees than do large companies. Similarly, most companies, regardless of size, plan to outsource more work – particularly technical work – to third-party providers, although large companies intend to outsource more. Overall, however, the study concludes that the number of IT jobs won’t change much between now and 2008.

The study identifies a number of business skills as core to successful IT operations, such as industry knowledge, project management expertise and business process knowledge. But it found no technical skill to be correspondingly critical.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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