Both skills upgrading and further education will boost the monetary value of an employee to the employer, say industry watchers, adding that career level will be a factor as to which areas to emphasize.
"Continual skills upgrading and education is a must for all of us, [whether we're in the] IT sector or otherwise," said Tay Kok Choon, head of strategic sales development at JobStreet.com Singapore, in an e-mail interview with ZDNet Asia.
He noted that job skills remain the key focus for employers who are looking for immediate returns when looking for potential candidates. For jobs that require immediate deployment, candidates with the right job skills will be rated above others, he added.
The situation is especially true for operational-level staff in areas such as programming, data center and application development, as well as network and IT security, he said.
However, as an employee moves up the hierarchy to reach the managerial position, academic requirements and experiences "do go a long way", said Tay.
Sohrab Singh, manager of the IT finance services division at Robert Walters Singapore, concurred in an e-mail interview. "Depending on the employees' long-term career goals, upgrading their skill sets will enable them to explore the right set of opportunities, while gaining experience in their area of interest.
"Whereas a Masters degree taken in the right discipline and at the right career juncture will help the employee climb up the career ladder," he added.
That said, despite the "long-term competitive advantage" of a Masters degree's for IT professionals, obtaining one would require a significant investment of time and money, said Singh. Therefore, he noted that IT professionals must estimate their current commitments and the time required to complete a degree to ensure success.
Timing is everything
Tay offered a gauge for IT professionals on when to focus on upgrading their skills or pursuing a further degree:
- For entry-level staff, there should be a strong emphasis on skills upgrading. For jobs at this career level, much of the overall direction and focus have been set by the employer. Therefore, for the employee, the most important contribution to the job is to get assignments completed.
- For supervisory-level staff, there is a need to choose a balance between upgrading pure technical skills and managerial skills, and perhaps some motivational and leadership skills. Supervisors have to understand the impact of how the individual's work contributes to the whole picture.
- For managerial-level staff who are most likely to be at the prime of their careers, it is timely to pursue a Masters degree. A Masters degree program can be niche or general, as such programs typically allow students to develop a broader understanding of business functions and activities beyond their area of specialization.
- For retiring workers who are aged 55 and above, keeping abreast with new IT developments is important. Therefore, a refocus back to skills will become more important.
Singh added that IT professionals can look beyond acquiring technical and functional certifications to upgrade themselves by obtaining employment in their area of interest to pick up new skills.
This does not mean that IT professionals have to search for new jobs. In fact, employees have a better chance of securing a position in their area of interest within their current organizations, as there is growing emphasis on internal mobility, said Singh.