"In a way, it's natural for a manager to develop a technical skills gap. We're not able to sit down and play with things the way our employees might," he says. And that worries him. "I feel like I need to know a lot about the different job skills in my department," he adds. "I need to understand at a deep technical level what my employees are talking about."
Cutbacks in training and travel haven't helped Williams or his employees in their quest to stay relevant. "It's been a mixed bag because of the recession, but we're starting to see that turn around," he says. Upper management is beginning to loosen the restrictions on training, especially in the area of security.
The Looming IT Job Exodus
Even as IT employees and managers like Williams and his crew begin to polish skills that grew rusty during the recession, a much more dire scenario awaits them.
An increasing number of forward-thinking CIOs, employment experts and analysts are convinced that the current skills gap isn't just a temporary hiccup. In the long run, they assert, there will simply be fewer pure technology jobs in corporate America.
As companies of all sizes opt to tap service providers for their IT needs, corporate IT departments are shrinking. As the number of on-premises hardware and software systems decreases, fewer IT employees will be needed for their care and feeding.
At Freescale Semiconductor, that change has taken place. Software as a service is being used "in every business function, including IT," says CIO Tarek ElHadidi. "The infrastructure is outsourced." IT's role now is to "decide how we want it done," he adds. "We are dictating policies and rules to service providers."
To do that effectively, ElHadidi says he needs people with a deep understanding of Freescale's business processes, not technical protocols. For example, the value of IT professionals who know EDI is not so much in their technical knowledge and experience with EDI, but in their deep knowledge of how transactions move through the company and where the sticking points might be.
The same holds true for other disciplines, including emerging technologies such as cloud computing. "I'm not interested in [hiring] a cloud architect, but a pricing architect or a procurement architect," ElHadidi says.
At Carlsbad, Calif.-based United Orthopedic Group, which manufactures orthopedic braces and operates clinics, many of the deeply technical aspects of IT have been automated through virtualization and other new technologies.
"United runs on a fully virtualized infrastructure that is entirely managed from a single console," says CIO James Clent, who presides over a 21-person IT organization. That means there's less need for multiple support technicians.
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