IT Workforce Trends

For the past seven years, there has been an on-going research project, Information Technology (IT) Workforce Trends, sponsored by the Society for Information Management and carried out by a team of academics from the U.S. and several other countries. The focus of the research is to understand the trends in human resource management in the information technology departments given other changes in the industry including the use of global sourcing and the impact of the retirement of the large baby boomer population. Understanding the implications of IT workforce management for educational programs is a key goal of the research.

There are two major phases in the research: 1) looking at the workforce trends in client companies, that is, those who buy global sourcing and 2) looking at the workforce trends in IT provider companies, that is, those who sell global sourcing services.

A major conclusion from the first phase is that there is a mission shift for the information systems function from delivering technology-based solutions to managing the process of delivering solutions. This has significant implications for the skills and capabilities that IT departments are hiring and developing within their organizations. The bottom line is that client-facing capabilities, along with project management and general business skills are increasing in importance as pure technical skills are decreasing in desirability.

Interestingly the second phase of the research shows that provider companies are seeking similar skills as they see their business strategies shifting to higher-level services for their clients.

In the following table (Table 1), the top 10 capabilities that client companies indicated were critical are shown (total exceeds 10 due to tied positions). The color coding illustrates the categories used in the research to sort skills and capabilities:

• Orange = Technical skills and capabilities

• Green = Project management skills and capabilities

• Blue = Business domain skills and capabilities

In the next table (Table 2) are the skills and capabilities that client companies indicated they would obtain through global sourcing.

It is very clear that all of these capabilities are in the category “technical skills and capabilities.”

It should be noted that despite these IT workforce trends, the typical computer science and information systems program does not usually emphasize the business domain and project management skills which are becoming desired and critical in the marketplace.

The results of this research underline a looming crisis in several areas related to the education of the modern IT workforce:

1) graduates who are not trained in areas that the marketplace is seeking;

2) thin pipeline for specific technical skills;

3) increasing pressure to source IT capability;

4) lag in university responsiveness to the needs of the marketplace.

The conclusions can be summarized in the simple statement that anyone choosing a career as an IT professional in most client and provider organizations will need a balance of technical and managerial skills to meet the demands of the marketplace. The technical skills will vary widely depending on the company and industry needs; however, in light of increasing sourcing of IT services, the managerial skills in the categories of project management and business domain knowledge are becoming increasingly critical in practice.

The computer science and information technology curricula will need to train students in both technical and non-technical skills. This result fits the notion of the “T-shaped person” as a person with broad general skills and deep technical skills. The concept of the T-shaped person has been in the literature for at least 20 years as the quote following shows. This type of rounded personality is also sought in other management areas and is sometimes described as a “variation on Renaissance Man, equally comfortable with information systems, modern management techniques, and the 12-tone scale.” [David Guest, “The Hunt is on for the Renaissance Man of Computing,” The Independent (London), September 17, 1991.]

The research data indicates that another highly valued version would be a person with broad technical skills and deep business skills. In particular, the data on mid-level positions shows a real need for project management and business skills. Currently, most computer science programs provide deep technical skills. They need to incorporate business applications of those skills and to foster such general skills as team work and communication. While Information systems or Information Technology programs are often housed in business schools, they do provide an opportunity for students to study accounting, finance, marketing and operations courses that build deep business skills and capabilities. These programs could be strengthened by exposing students to cross functional courses and projects that emphasize supporting business processes and a focus on global business strategies.

To find background on this research with detailed data from the two phases and information about the skills and capabilities, see the following publications:

Abraham, T., C. Beath, C. Bullen, K. Gallagher, T. Goles, K. Kaiser, and J. Simon. (2006). “IT Workforce Trends: Implications for IS Programs,” Communications of the Association for Information Systems (17:3), pp.1147-1170.

Bullen, C. V., T. Abraham, K. P. Gallagher, K. M. Kaiser, J. C. Simon. (2007A). “Changing IT Skills: The Impact of Sourcing Strategies on In-House Capability Requirements, ” special issue on Offshoring and Outsourcing: The 140 Volume 24 Article 9 Innovation and its Impact on Electronic Commerce in Organizations in Journal of Electronic Commerce in Organizations 5 (2), 24-46.

Bullen, C. V., T. Abraham, S. Galup. (2007B). “IT Workforce Trends: Implications for Curriculum and Hiring,” Communications of the Association for Information Systems Volume 20, Article 34, October

Zwieg, P. et al. (2006). “The Information Technology Workforce: Trends and Implications 2005-2008,” MIS Quarterly Executive, (5:2), pp. 47-54. □


Christine V. Bullen is a faculty member at the Howe School of Management, Stevens Institute of Technology where she is the coordinator of the four-course concentration/major on global sourcing in the MSIS and MBA programs. She is currently conducting research on an IT workforce deployment model, looking at the impact of sourcing strategy on the in house needs for IT skills. She earned her MS from MIT and her Ph.D. from Stevens. She is also the former chair, president and board member of the Global Sourcing Council.  You may reach Christine at