Karen Armon

Three Major Trends for Technology Professionals in 2012

Talented, innovative professionals are scarce and in demand. Job seekers can position themselves to benefit.

by Karen Armon, January 2012

The transformation of the world’s economy has created tremendous shifts that can be confusing. The way to maneuver your professional career through these shifts is to understand the impact of current micro-trends, and to take steps to move forward. Here are three trends that will impact the job market for technology professionals, and suggestions for how professionals can best prepare for them and get ahead.

Trend #1: Demand for Top Talent Continues Despite Financial Market Turmoil

Demand for top talent and senior executives is as robust as ever, despite what is occurring in the economy. Organizations find that hiring top talent continues to be the challenge. The tougher the problems that an industry faces, the more vital it is to hire those who can lead and direct a company through the rough times.

“Management hiring in technology has picked up over the last few months, despite the overall general economic slowdown,” says Dan Grosh, a managing director of Boyden San Francisco. “It appears as if there’s a ‘protective bubble’ in Silicon Valley, and the competition for top talent is as fierce as ever.”

What is in demand, however, is changing rapidly. No longer can employees rely on past skills, roles or projects to define their careers and their unique marketing value proposition. With the destruction of work along functional lines and expectation of individuals to impact results across different departments, those who seek to be “in demand” need to continually upgrade and extend their expertise beyond traditional roles. For example, project managers who traditionally manage new product rollouts are also being asked to understand the impact upon marketing trends, revenue and sales, as well as to contribute to customer engagement.

How does one stay in demand and on top of these changes? First, don’t focus on your current role and skills to understand if your talents are viable. Instead, look at the industry’s challenges. Go beyond the job postings and listen to trend-setting CEOs and industry leaders to identify those challenges. That means you need to read between the lines, synthesizing what the thought leaders are saying beyond tactical impacts. Then, think about your current work and define how you’ve addressed these major challenges at work, including how that solution has impacted revenue, increased market share, or provided return on investors or stockholders. If you don’t know, go back and find out.

Here are a few questions to get you started:

  • What challenges does your industry face? Who are the innovators in your industry? What are they saying about these challenges?

  • Have you faced these challenges in your job? How did you solve these challenges, and how did you lead your group through them?

  • What makes your solutions and directions vital to the success of a company? What impact can you point to? Why should anyone care?

These are important questions that you must answer to be able to ride this trend and keep yourself viable in a rapidly changing economic environment.

Trend #2: The Shortage of Qualified Top Professionals Will Continue Through the Next Decade

In company after company, many top-level roles remain unfilled, and will remain so for quite some time. Many companies will continue to morph and change what is required to get maximum results for each newly created job.

Marc Margolis addressed this “sea change” in The Daily Beast in May 2010:

“After shedding help in droves during the recession, many businesses find they are now shrunken and bereft of the qualified professionals needed to kick-start growth again. But employers are also colliding with a reality the economic slump simply masked. Sure, the legion of graying baby boomers set to punch out is part of the problem. So is the meltdown in the classroom, where plunging math and literacy scores and science-by-the-numbers are cheapening diplomas and hobbling tomorrow’s professionals. Yet what has turned abundance into a dearth is a sea change in the international economy that is challenging the way businesses organize themselves, create wealth, and shop their brands around the world.”

Companies have a low risk tolerance for hiring individuals, only to lay them off again. The solution, therefore, is to do more with less. This has caused a new trend that I call “executive or professional convergence.”

Just as there has been technological convergence over time, executive or professional convergence is the desire of companies to combine what traditionally were two or three top roles into one. For instance, chief information officers (CIOs) are also being asked to take on the chief operations officer role in technology-based companies. In the financial services industry, chief financial officers are absorbing the CIO role.

The shortage of qualified top professionals is the flip-side of trend number one, in that the pool of qualified talent that can fill expanded requirements is very small and hard to find. This is true not only in terms of skills, but also in actual numbers, due to the imminent exit of baby boomers from the job market, and the significantly smaller pool of individuals in the next generation.

Professionals who have held positions that encompass two or more functional roles, or who have had unusual careers, will be more sought out. Yet those very individuals are often unprepared to connect the dots and provide a clear presentation that makes sense to hiring authorities. In many cases, professionals who have had “jack of all and master of none” careers come off as quirky and too risky to hire. What do you do to plug into this trend?

First, this convergence trend by employers, particularly in the mid-size and small company market, will cause a resurrection of those professionals who have had a deep and wide experience set, and many may find themselves suddenly courted by companies. Those who have a linear but progressive background in one functional area may find themselves out in the cold. Regardless, however, potential candidates need to provide meaning to their next employer beyond functional skill sets.

Second, high-level knowledge workers who see the future and have solutions that are proven will be in demand in this next decade. Those who have only worked in one industry or in one functional role need to break out of their functional box rather than relying on progressive skills along a single role or function.

Finally, those who have multi-industry backgrounds, who have worked in small companies wearing many hats, or who have moved around the world need to understand the importance of their background, and how these seemingly disjointed experiences have value. Now is the time to understand how your deep and wide experience applies in today’s world.

Here’s how to bring your wide and varied background into a compelling presentation:

  • Review your background and “un-hide” the quirks in your career past

  • Design a thematic message that highlights a deep understanding of business

  • Develop cross-functional skills by asking for lateral assignments

  • Prepare for expanded requirements that employers want and need

Trend #3: Talent That Can Lead Innovative Efforts Will Get Promoted Quickly and Often

In September 2011, this headline caught my attention: “ManpowerGroup Executive Vice President, Global Strategy and Talent, Mara Swan, Speaks on Epic Shifts in the Human Age.”

The phrase “the human age” is what struck me. ManpowerGroup supports this by stating the following (emphasis mine):

“In this new era, individuals are a rising power. Key factors compounded to create this dynamic platform, including: pressure on companies to do more with less; a shift in demographics defined, in part, by aging experienced workers and a shortage of qualified workers to take their place; advancements in technology that enable borderless and 24/7 workplaces, particularly for individuals who possess in-demand skills and can be more selective about where they work; and rising marketplace sophistication which demands relentless innovation, greater value and efficiency.”

This declaration of the “new era of individuals” coincides with the American writer Thomas Friedman’s book, The World is Flat. Friedman says that due to the Internet, the economic structures began shifting from companies to individuals somewhere around the year 2000. Innovation, therefore, should be directly related to well-utilized human capital which allows for ideas, services and organic growth in an organization. Innovation is a fundamental component of moving a company from an Industrial Age paradigm to a Creative Age or Digital Age paradigm that is the new economic structure of today.

McKinsey’s research on innovation confirms this: “Our research shows that executives who focus on stimulating and supporting innovation by their employees can promote and sustain it with the current talent and resources, and more effectively than they could by using other incentives.”

How can individuals become more innovative and meet this demand head-on?

  • Lead by defining boundaries and let your direct reports color within the lines. Innovation will be your result.

  • Understand innovation, what it means, and how it occurs in everyday life. Innovation is simply three things: persistence, flexibility, and a recombination of what is currently available.

  • Try new ideas with collaborative groups at work, take risks, and keep thinking of new ways to do what you are currently doing.


The Bottom Line: What Does This Mean For The Technology Professional? 

Since 2000, there has been a silent emergence of a new economic structure that has gone undetected. Indices such as the unemployment rate, labor statistics, gross domestic product, and industrial output do not pick up these micro-trends. Technology advances somewhat cloud the issues, because innovations in products and services cause the professional to follow these trends and not the significant employment changes that are happening under our very noses. Yet periodical reviews and individual discussions that provide a human face to our world today can tell us what’s really going on. 

For the tech professional, keeping a sharp eye out for these micro-trends changes how one sees the world, provides new direction for moving into top roles in any market, and develops new and robust careers that meets today’s economy while effectively marketing and selling one’s top-level capabilities.

Karen Armon (www.MarketOneExecutive.com) is an executive-level career coach and author of the book, Market Your Potential, Not Your Past. Her mission is to provide each executive and professional with information and insights needed to help make the essential transition in his or her career from Industrial Age to Creative Age and to meet today’s market challenges. Karen’s newly released 2012 eBook, available in January 2012, helps you to understand and to decode today’s economic climate and is available at http://www.marketoneexecutive.com/ebook.asp.