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The Future of IT Work In Victoria:
The Skills Required

Given the recent trends, what are the IT skill sets that will be required in Victoria in the coming years? Firstly they are current. Oracle's 9iAS Portal, where I am putting my money as the winner of the aforementioned contract, is so new there are virtually no skilled people available here with any knowledge of the product. Microsoft's .net is hardly a household word, but that is where the government is going. In order to get the current skill sets required, the government, and private sector employers which serve that market (which is basically all of them in Victoria), will be hiring people who have had IT training within the last three years.

To understand why this need for new skills exists, you need to understand that the government has multi-year legal agreements with companies like Oracle, IBM, and Microsoft. These agreements are structured in such a way that the government has to move to the latest product release as soon as possible. There are two ways the vendor achieves this. Firstly, the vendor makes it prohibitively expensive to stay with an old release (the stick) and offers incentives to move to the new (the carrot). Secondly, as I know from my years working on IT help desks, the vendor begins to withdraw technical support for old releases as soon as the new one is out.

Another trend to consider in the IT industry is certification. This requirement has become a de facto standard over the last decade. Certification is really a way for employers to pre-test applicants for technical knowledge. If you have your MCSE or you're an Oracle Master, they know you can learn and what you studied. All they have to do is qualify your practical abilities (some people are a wiz at passing multiple choice tests but that doesn't mean they can code) and train you in their methodologies and practices.

Despite the need for current skill sets, there is still have a need for experienced IT business managers and leaders. The BC Government has what is referred to as a "succession planning" problem. Most people with current skills are too inexperienced for management positions while most of their management level staff will retire in the next five years. So included in the list of skill sets below are skills that only come with experience.

The first most important skill set includes the following: positive attitude, team player, good communicator, willingness to learn, help their peers, can deal with conflict, change and challenge, and effectively work with other IT and non-IT professionals and customers. Surprised? I have been in the IT industry for 20 years. I am currently involved in a number of IT industry associations, have my own small IT company, have managed an IT recruiting office, and am currently a full time student in the Application Management Information Technology program at UVIC (remember the bit about current skills?). I am in almost daily communication with government and private sector IT employers and they tell me again, and again, and again: soft skills are the number one decision regarding hiring a new employee. Number one.

Now lets talk about technical skill sets. Again, the fact that the government has agreements with the vendors drives the requirements. They have an agreement with Microsoft. NT has lived out its useful life and the government will go with XP as the desktop and .NET as the network solution. Your Microsoft certification will help in this market. The Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer (MCSE) will be useful, especially migrating from NT, but also for security related reasons. I suspect there will also be a need for the Microsoft Certified Solution Developer (MCSD) as the government moves to increasingly to integrated solutions and cross government initiatives.

The old license agreement with Oracle stated that all new databases must be Oracle, but this will loosen and the Microsoft Certified Database Administrator (MCDBA) might be a good competitive edge. Oracle is not going away for a long time. The government has invested too much in it. Oracle certification will still stand you well, but chose wisely which tests to write. I would suggest Oracle's 9iAS Portal is a good bet even if Oracle does not win the latest RFP.

Despite Microsoft's decision to discontinue its interest in Java, Oracle and Java play very nicely together thank you. The government likes what Java and Oracle do together and will need Java knowledge. It's true that we have not yet seen the proof of the pudding on this one, but these days if you scratch the surface of Oracle, there is Java under the paint.

With the government's move to web based service delivery, or the "Electronic Service Delivery Infrastructure (ESDI) Project" as they call it, comes additional skills requirements. The web site, the customer interface, has to be designed and integrated with the back end, which will be a database. This requires graphic design, HTML, XML, object oriented languages, scripting languages, etc. It also requires technical and communications writing skills as web sites need constant updating.

The government's succession problem will drive a need for Project Managers, Business Analysts and IT Operations Mangers. In Victoria, the methodologies of the Project Management Institute (PMI) have become the standard. Their certification, the Project Management Professional, is always "preferred". Don't start gearing up to write another multiple choice exam, this is one of those things that requires experience, but being able to talk the PMI talk and saying you are working towards certification, will put you in good standing.

Business Analysts are another area the local industry needs experienced people. In Victoria when someone says "business analyst", they don't mean you have a B. Comm. or your MBA. They really mean "systems analyst" with close to ten years experience as a programmer analyst and hopefully experience with a CASE tool or something similar.

Finally, experienced IT managers will be in demand. No amount of education or certification will make up for experience here because you are not really dealing with things but with people. Other industry experience is transferable only to a degree as I have seen from experience with individuals coming into this field thinking a team is a team and a project is a project. The IT environment has its own unique pitfalls and blind alleys.

Overall I am optimistic about employment prospects in the IT industry in Victoria but you will have to learn what the employer needs and think competitively about the hiring process. Be prepared to take the long view, get in where you can and plan to work your way towards what you want over the next few years.

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