IT Consulting Can Be More Than a Post-Layoff Stopgap

To paraphrase Charles Dickens, it is the worst of times. Budget cuts, layoffs, salary freezes—if you’re lucky—there doesn’t appear to be much good news on the job front, and IT is no exception.

But while full-time positions are being lost every day, IT jobs experts say there is a silver lining and there are opportunities available, most notably, in consulting. Many companies find they still need to get projects done, but now they’ve got to be more creative, especially since, in many cases, remaining staff is too bogged down with day-to-day work.

“Even as ‘our clients’ tighten their belts, they are still moving forward with projects, but perhaps not on a full-time basis,” says Dave Willmer, executive director of Robert Half Technology, a staff consulting and search firm in Columbus, Ohio. “Now I may bring in a consultant for five or six weeks and it may cost me less and I accomplish that work on a project basis.”

Willmer adds that “It’s more prevalent than in the past” to use consultants.

Consulting isn’t the only way to go—many companies are also looking to turn away from the overhead of fixed costs like employees, to outsourcing for certain services, notes David Foote, CEO and Chief Research Officer of Foote Partners LLC, a consultancy that analyzes IT wages and hiring data.

For example, Foote points to the fact that there are probably more managed security services positions now than five years ago; an area that traditionally gets outsourced.

Where the jobs are

In terms of geographic regions, one area with growth potential is the North Carolina corridor, he says. “The combination of Charlotte/Raleigh area specifically, is strong and has continued to be in past few months for overall IT projects for consulting and full-time hiring in the areas of virtualization, web-based projects and VoIP, as well as in traditional areas like PC technicians and help desk,” says Willmer.

Another area of opportunity can be found in Houston. Although Willmer says it’s not a growth area, he adds that Robert Half continues to see interest in those project areas as well as in all areas of IT consulting.

David Van De Voort, a principal at Chicago-based Mercer, an international Human Resources consulting firm, maintains that geographic region isn’t as important as certain vertical industries, and sees military and defense contractors as “areas of strength” for IT personnel right now. While these types of firms are spread throughout the country, Van De Voort says there tends to be a strong concentration of jobs in southern California and Washington, D.C.

As for tech skills that are still in demand, Van De Voort sees a market for workers who have expertise in what he calls data management or data systems development. “We’re in an era of very strong focus on data mining, repurposing data and data having a strategic purpose for the business, not just for IT,” he says. “There are lots of multiyear projects that continue to be ongoing related to the strategic use of data and data mining.”

Also in demand are people with skills in IT governance; managing the business of IT, Van De Voort says.

“It can be jobs in projects and program management offices that are focused on documenting the return on investment in IT dollars, as there is more pressure for ‘that’ so those jobs are becoming more valuable.”

A subset of that work would be people with process improvement skills; an expertise in processes and efficiencies like ITIL.

“The smart CIO knows IT service delivery is key right now and it’s more important for IT to do its job efficiently,” he says.

On a downward slide? Application development jobs, Van De Voort says, since companies are spending less in that area.

Reinvent yourself

Willmer recommends that IT executives looking for work consider consulting and continue building their skills. Even though most would rather be working full time, he says it’s important to be flexible. “Right now the goal is to get a paycheck and continue working.”

Van De Voort concurs that with so much corporate belt-tightening, consulting has become a “coping mechanism.”

So it’s also a good time to think about reinventing yourself. “As you’re talking with potential employers,” says Willmer, “the more you can demonstrate ROI in your past history, that’s what companies are looking for.” If you have relationships with firms you’ve worked for in the past, now is the time to leverage them.

Don’t be too concerned about having enough technical expertise. “There are still openings that tend to be for IT workers with a combination of IT experience and business knowledge and who can interface with the business people,” says Van De Voort. “Those jobs and people will be in increasing demand.”

Employers have been looking “well beyond tech skills in their hiring practices around IT professionals,” concurs Foote. “IT jobs have changed a lot in the past several years, particularly since so many of these jobs are now located within the business lines and not in a central IT department.”

For IT workers who still have jobs, Van De Voort’s advice is to get close to their business; make sure to know what’s going on on the business side and find out how IT can support their needs.

“If you’re out of work and have significant experience in a particular industry, leverage that and focus on taking not just what you about it,” he says, “but the way it supports a particular business and use that as your calling card.”

“There is a silver lining,” says Willmer. “It’s still a great industry where customers continue to invest in certain areas to move forward with projects.”

Adds Van De Voort, “I would rather be an IT professional than a lot of things today as I look at the job boards and deal with organizations.”

Article courtesy of IT Career Planet

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