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IT skills in demand with greater growth anticipated

Most people, especially young people considering information technology (IT) careers, have an incorrect perception that working in the IT industry means programming computers.

“Nothing could be further from the truth,” said Gerard Gibert, president of Venture Technologies, Ridgeland. “As an example, less than 1% of our overall business involves computer programming. The world of networking and systems integration is laden with opportunity — security, wireless, VoIP, storage, etc. The demand for quality talent in these areas is explosive and will continue to be so for a long, long time. Compensation is high and increasing.”

There is another misconception, and that is that most of the IT jobs in the U.S. are being outsourced. Gibert said while there has been a recent trend toward offshore outsourcing of IT services, that is specifically focused on software development, primarily around SQL database platforms such as Oracle.

“But again, that is a small fraction of the overall opportunity, and there is still a demand for on-site project managers and business and technical analysts to manage, design, test, implement, train and support complex business application systems,” Gibert said.

Talk to just about any IT firm and they will tell you finding reliable employees with the right training is a number one challenge. Gibert said there is particularly a shortage of good network engineers.

“Unfortunately, there is not a curriculum that specifically prepares a student for this kind of work,” Gibert said. “But electrical engineering, telecommunications and basic computer science are probably the best. A person just needs to possess a logical thought process and a rigorous and enthusiastic approach to solving business problems with various networking technologies.”

In the networking industry, compensation and value is directly tied to industry or manufacturer certifications. Cisco System’s CCIE (Cisco Certified Internetworking Expert) is considered the pinnacle.

Dr. Luther Epting, director, Career Services Center, Mississippi State University (MSU), talks to IT firms on a regular basis that are looking for good employees.

“We see tremendous numbers of jobs and opportunities,” Epting said. “In fact, we don’t have enough folks to fill them. When I talk about IT here, I’m talking about jobs in management information systems, computer science, computer engineering and software engineering. We have not seen a decline in the demand. It is still there.”

The demand comes from both in-state and out-of-state companies. Software and computer engineering are particularly in big demand, and MSU has actually seen a decrease in enrollment in some of those programs recently.

There is more demand from employees than can be met by the number of graduates of those programs at MSU.
Organizers that come on campus to do interviews would like to see more applicants. Some interview schedules are running about half full. And the university also gets numerous job announcements that are posted to their Web page.

The starting pay is attractive. Computer science and software and computer engineering degrees average about $50,000 in beginning salaries for a baccalaureate degree. For management information systems, the average is $38,000 to $42,000.

Epting believes that demand for IT professionals will only increase in the future.

“Eighty-five percent of the workforce in U.S. interacts with a computer at least once per day,” Epting said. “If you look at the proliferation of just personal computers, there is a phenomenal opportunity for folks out there to do a lot of things. And we are finding more and more applications for automation. You are seeing a big demand for computer applications in the manufacturing process, which goes back to robotics. Someone has to program the robot to do what it does. I don’t think we are going to see any decline in automation from the manufacturing standpoint.”

Heath Hall, vice president for external affairs and marketing with the Mississippi Technology Alliance, agrees that as technology becomes more integrated into our professional and personal lives, there will be a greater need for IT professionals.

“Mississippi is certainly no exception to great technology and entrepreneurs who are turning ideas into companies,” Hall said. “As witnessed within our university and junior college system, our state is moving IT training further and faster than we were just a few short years ago. Our private sector IT businesses are very aggressive with employee high-level IT certifications, which ultimately allow them to provide their services more efficiently and effectively.IT professionals have a home in Mississippi today and they will in the future.”

Contact MBJ contributing writer Becky Gillette at bgillette@bellsouth.net.

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