Security as a must-have skill is a no-brainer.
A CompTIA skills survey released in February had security listed as the No. 1 skill among three-quarters of the 3,578 IT hiring managers polled. Foote Partners reports that security skills accounted for 17 per cent of base pay in the fourth quarter of 2007, and pay for network security management skills increased by more than 27 per cent in 2007.
But going forward, IT professionals will need to be able to incorporate their security savvy into network, wireless, application, operating system and other IT areas to best compete.
"Firewall, data leak, compliance -- you name it and it's in demand for security," says CompTIA's Hopkins. "In the networking field, you need to also be an expert at security, but going forward skills around how to train staff and employees to be security-aware will have to be developed."
Networking expertise, which fell out of favor after the dot-com bust, is now back in demand and second only to security in terms of needed skills among the IT managers surveyed by CompTIA.
"Networking and infrastructure skills are back. Companies are not getting rid of data and they are doing more transactions online. With the growth and complexity of networks, there is a push for skills to design and manage such large-scale environments," says Beyond.com's Milgram.
Martin Webb, manager of data network operations for the Ministry of Labour and Citizens' Services in the province of British Columbia, says he is looking for people with practical experience in large enterprise IP-based networks, "both in terms of implementing services as well as operational support."
"Experience in wide-area networking is hard to come by, particularly as it applies to traditional carrier networking technologies such as T-1, frame relay, ISDN and multiplexing," Webb explains. "Today's technical staff also need to have basic business analysis skills with an understanding of financial management."
Brian Jones, manager of network engineering at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University's Tech's Communications Network Services unit, says he is always on the lookout for "field personnel who are well-organized. This means people who are experienced in installing networks, including everything from assembling racks to installing fiber panels, cross connect fields, cable management, and various network chassis and equipment." Other networking skills he says are must-haves include proficiency in cable and fiber termination and splicing as well as experience installing and configuring edge switches.
"These skills are hard to find and keep," Jones says.
For John Tuman, director of network services at WakeMed Health & Hospitals in Raleigh, N.C., finding VoIP skills is a challenge. "There is a lot of talent available with the traditional PBX, far less that have practical VoIP experience," he says.
Virginia Tech's Jones agrees. He says expertise in VoIP will only be more in demand as time goes on.
"VoIP, IPv6, and other emerging technologies will be driven by new applications and user requirements. IT staffers as always will have to learn these new things while maintaining the older technologies and services," Jones says.