The turmoil of 2020 has had a huge impact on the IT job market. As a result, many tech professionals are wondering if they have the right skills for the current environment.
The World Economic Forum suggests that they might be right to worry. The organization has predicted a massive shift in the labor force, with 50% of all workers needing new skills by 2025 if they want to remain competitive in the labor market.
At the same time, the competition for the available jobs is getting much tougher. In its 2021 Technology Salary Guide, staffing firm Robert Half Technology noted that the pandemic has increased the supply of IT job candidates for available positions. "Higher unemployment and upskilling in the workforce due to accelerated digital transformation are expanding the IT candidate pool," it said. "It is further enlarged by businesses' growing acceptance of remote work arrangements. This allows employers to recruit technology professionals from a broader geographic area, potentially from anywhere around the world."
As anyone with even the most basic understanding of economics might guess, this oversupply has had a negative impact on IT salaries. According to research firm Foote Partners, "41% of the salaried job titles in our IT Professional Salary Survey have declined in value in the last 12 months (using national average salary in our comparison)." This was the first time the researchers saw this kind of pay decrease in the 26 years they have been publishing the report, so it is clearly a result of the changing conditions brought on by the pandemic.
But not all the news is bad. Experts say that IT workers with the right skills will continue to see high demand and, potentially, pay increases. The following slideshow highlights 10 IT skills that employers will be looking for in 2021 and beyond.
1. Cloud Computing
On its recently published list of 20 Skills in Demand in Today's Workforce (which included tech and non-tech skills), online job board Indeed ranked cloud computing No. 1. While the trend toward cloud computing is nothing new, the type of cloud skills employers looks for is starting to shift.
"Companies are now well beyond simply moving their applications and infrastructure to the cloud," said Patrick Walsh, senior vice president -- training & technology at talent accelerator firm SkillStorm. "Today, it’s about developing and executing a cloud strategy. Companies need to develop cloud-native applications, manage multi-cloud practices, and create more secure and resilient cloud environments."
These more strategic cloud skills also ranked highly in Foote Partners' fourth quarter 2020 Tech Skills Demand and Pay Trends Report. Several AWS certifications ranked among the certs that gained the most value for the quarter, and the Certified Cloud Security Professional was among those paying the highest cash premiums.
The Covid-19 pandemic disrupted work in a myriad of ways, including a dramatic spike in cyberattacks. When you combine those attacks with increasing privacy regulations and today's largely remote workforce, organizations have much greater need for security personnel than ever before. Robert Half said, "With more employees working remotely, security experts are needed to help the business defend an extended security perimeter and comply with stringent regulatory mandates."
Similarly, Foote Partners noted, "Clearly, demand for cybersecurity workers is not being met by supply," and it predicted that security tools based on artificial intelligence might help meet that need.
3. Artificial Intelligence
Artificial intelligence (AI) landed in the No. 2 spot on Indeed's list of top skills. This probably shouldn't be surprising as so many different areas of technology now incorporate AI and machine learning (ML) capabilities. SkillStorm’s Walsh explained, "Government and fintech can leverage ML for fraud detection. Intelligence, defense, and social media applications use ML for facial recognition software. The commercial tech industry is introducing self-driving cars, chatbots, and other AI applications that will shape our world’s future. As a critical and emerging technology, the industry needs more talent skilled in the disciplines of AI and ML." The Robert Half report added that this need "is also growing as companies expand their use of technologies such as AI to automate processes, evaluate past trends, and make decisions to guide the business into the future."
Closely related to this growth in AI is the expanding role that analytics and data science play in the enterprise. In keeping with this trend, Foote Partners predicted that hot job titles in the near future will include big data development engineer, database administrator, data analyst, and data engineer. According to Indeed, analysis is the fourth highest skill in demand right now. And that probably won't change anytime soon. Robert Half forecasted, "The demand for data science and data analytics and reporting skills is likely to remain significant as the complexity of data ecosystems increases."
5. Mobile Development
Development skills are perennially in short supply, and Indeed said that mobile development skills are in particularly high demand right now, ranking sixth on its list. "The industry for mobile application development continues to grow as mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets become the center of communication and work," the company added. Robert Half included mobile developers (as well as database, full-stack, web, and software developers) as one of the critical technology roles for 2021. The Robert Half report also noted that the median pay for mobile developers in the United States is $135,750, considerably higher than the $118,250 that is the median pay for software developers.
6. UX Design
Another area of development with very high demand is user experience (UX) design. This field requires understanding of both technology and human psychology, which can be a difficult combination to find. Indeed placed UX design tenth on its list of top skills and noted, "You can find an increasing number of growth opportunities in this field. Getting into this promising industry requires the right skills and training to meet increasing business demands." According to Salary.com, pay for UX designers in the United States ranges between $73,411 and $103,255.
Industry watchers have been predicting growing importance for blockchain technologies for several years, and now organizations are beginning to pay top dollar for blockchain expertise. Foote Partners included a specific type of blockchain called Ethereum on its list of skills that earn high pay premiums and are growing in value. As of October, Ethereum expertise carried a 17% pay premium, a 30.8% increase over the most recent six months. Indeed also noted the growing importance of blockchain, placing it twelfth on the list of in-demand skills.
Many enterprises have transitioned to DevOps models of operation that emphasize agility and collaboration between development and operations teams. Now a growing number are expanding that to their security teams through the practice known as DevSecOps. As a result, demand is growing for both DevOps and DevSecOps skills. Robert Half included DevOps engineers among its critical technology roles. And in the Foote Partners report, DevSecOps was among the skills with the highest-paying premiums, and the company listed DevSecOps among its hot info/cybersecurity jobs.
9. Risk Management
The pandemic and the associated boom in cybersecurity incidents have also awakened IT teams to the need for better risk management, and the Foote Partners' report noted that the field overlaps with two other hot tech skills: AI and cybersecurity. It included risk management among its hot info/cybersecurity jobs, and the PMI Risk Management Professional Certification was on its list of certs that pay the highest premiums. IT professionals who work in security or analytics may find that adding risk management skills to their resume could help them increase their pay.
10. Soft Skills
Of course, not all the skills that technical workers need are technical in nature. The increase in remote work during the pandemic has made soft skills even more important for IT professionals than they were before. The Foote Partners' report explained, "A time of crisis results in greater stress for everyone, but teams with strong interpersonal relationships are better able to cope with emergencies as they arise." According to Robert Half, the soft skills employers seek in their tech workers most include attention to detail, business acumen, change management, collaboration, communication, critical thinking, customer service, leadership, problem solving, and project management.Cynthia Harvey is a freelance writer and editor based in the Detroit area. She has been covering the technology industry for more than fifteen years. View Full Bio