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Signs of IT job thaw, but WAN pros should align with top priorities

Department of Labor statistics indicate at least an uptick, if not yet a full thaw, in information technology (IT) jobs, but wide-area network (WAN) professionals should still focus on specific, in-demand skills if they want to be offered the top positions.

Department of Labor statistics indicate at least an uptick, if not yet a full thaw, in information technology (IT) jobs, but wide-area network (WAN) professionals should still focus on specific, in-demand skills if they want to be offered the top positions.

According to IT workforce research firm Foote Partners, the total number of IT-related jobs tracked by the Department of Labor took a sudden upswing of 7,400 in July. This follows five straight months of job loss numbers ranging from 3,000 to 11,000.

But Department of Labor data is tricky to interpret for a number of reasons, and July's good tidings may not mean the bad times are over.

For one, the shift could simply mean that a class of jobs has been reclassified or that unemployed individuals have exhausted their benefits, meaning that gains on paper do not translate into real-world gains.

David Foote, CEO of Foote Partners, pointed to a sudden jump in accounting jobs, which have been disappearing for years, as an example of federal data that simply does not make sense.

In order to preserve historical continuity, the Labor Department has not updated its IT job classifications in 15 years, categorizing the vague "Computer Systems Design and Related Services" and "Management, Scientific, and Technical Consulting Services" in the same genus as lawyers, accountants, and scientific researchers.

Other factors, such as workers taking on part-time employment or giving up active job hunting, also affect the numbers, and Foote said it will not be until next month's numbers are released that there will be more clarity into whether IT employment is on a true positive upswing.

Despite all the caveats, Foote is optimistic about a wider job recovery starting with IT, and he is quite bullish that workers with the right skill sets can find ample opportunities not only to survive but thrive.

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Foote Partners has developed a mechanism for tracking IT salary trends. Foote said it shouldn't be used as a proxy to indicate job growth or losses, but it could indicate demand versus supply, and he said it shows plenty of pockets of high demand.

"Clearly, the recession has hit pay overall, but our clients all tell us that [they're] trying to find skilled people, and [they're] having trouble finding them," he said. "Companies are absolutely cherry-picking what they want."

That means a generic Cisco certification may no longer be a guarantee of a job, but the right skills that fit a corporate strategy could earn a pay premium, even in tough times.

Foote said management methodology process skills are in demand, along with security. Enterprises are shifting their focus in security skills, however. The ability to secure data and protect the company from internal threats is in much more demand than traditional perimeter security skills.

As enterprises seek ways to save money by moving from TDM-based voice to voice over IP (VoIP) technology, Foote sees a rising demand for IP telephony skills. He said this should be an opportunity for WAN professionals because IP telephony requires careful WAN bandwidth management and optimization.

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