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Flexible skill set key to keeping your job

Due to a shift in the way companies view IT, employees are going to have to focus on versatility through the end of the decade, according to a new Gartner study.

According to a recent study from Gartner Inc., the days when IT professionals can get by solely on specialized technical skills are coming to an end -- sooner than many think.

The Stamford, Conn.-based analyst firm said technical aptitude will no longer be enough to secure a future for IT workers. Gartner predicts that IT departments in midsized and large companies will be 30% smaller than they are right now, and while the firm said some roles will be bolstered, many more will be carved up, redistributed or displaced.

The company blamed skepticism toward the effectiveness of IT, the rise of IT automation, worldwide geographic labor shifts and increased multi-sourcing on the downsizing. Gartner believes the shrinking job pool will lead to a new breed of IT professional that will be forced to show knowledge of industry processes and leadership ability, as well as an expanded technical skill set.

According to the report, the days of solely operating in a specialized role, such as a Unix programmer, network engineer or database admin, may be over.

Gartner has dubbed this new movement the "era of the versalitists." The term is clearly a mouthful, but the firm believes IT pros better get up to speed on what it means.

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"If the last decade represented the era of specialists, this decade will mark the era of the versatilist," said Diane Morello, a research vice president at Gartner. "Versalitists are people whose numerous roles, assignments and experiences are enabling them to synthesize knowledge and context to fuel business value. Versatilists are applying their depth of skills and experiences to a rich scope of situations and challenges, and are implementing their cross-organizational insight to flesh out teams and fill competency gaps."

While specialization was, until recently, the rage in IT, the push toward versatility is a result of businesses seeking to stretch their personnel budgets further than they can with specialists.

Gartner believes that by 2010, IT pros must also prove strong business acumen in such areas as industry, core processes, customer bases, regulatory environment, culture and constraints. Gartner predicts that by 2010, six out of 10 IT professionals will assume roles that combine business with IT.

Gartner points to four global forces currently at work:

  • High-speed global networks have given companies the opportunity to expand their talent pool internationally, ratcheting up the competition for open slots.
  • Automation, most notably in software development, testing, remote system monitoring, operation centers, technical support, storage and networking, will reduce the need for people who traditionally have performed those tasks.
  • The so-called consumerization of IT -- thanks to personal devices, online services and cell phones -- will demystify IT and make companies lean away from complicated data center systems and applications, and thus the departments and people required to run them.
  • Lastly, the firm believes the realities of the modern business structure will challenge IT professional positioning and weaken employee commitment.

    "IT professionals should decide now if they wish to remain in the realm of 'pure technology' or redirect themselves to new domains of expertise and develop practical experiences in industries, market segments and core business processes that would help them in that domain," Morello said.

    Let us know what you think about the story; e-mail: Matt Stansberry, News Editor

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