Despite the gloomy headlines, demand for tech skills is strong

Paychex exec: 'As businesses continue to adapt to technology, technology professionals with business acumen remain extremely sought after.'
Written by Joe McKendrick, Contributing Writer
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There's been no shortage of reports of layoffs from tech companies and slowdowns in startup funding. One estimate puts tech layoffs at about 90,000 jobs cut in 2022 -- at least within the tech industry itself. 

This may suggest tougher times ahead for technology professionals, but that's not necessarily the case. Rather, the hiring market for technology talent remains robust, and demand keeps growing for technology professionals who can fuse business requirements with tech savvy. 

That's the word from Jeff Williams, vice president of enterprise and HR solutions for Paychex, providing his perspective on what's ahead for the technology talent market in the year ahead. 

Q: Despite the headlines, does the balance still favor tech professionals overall? Does demand for skills remain strong?

Williams: "Technology skills will always remain crucial for businesses, regardless of the changing macro-economic environment. We are in a unique moment where, despite talks of an economic downturn, the hiring market is still hot, and employee retention remains a priority for many businesses. Though the scales may tip yet, it's important to note demand remains strong for tech professionals as we enter an increasingly digitalized world.

"Legacy IT jobs relied on the management of infrastructure and long, expensive capital upgrade cycles. Today, with so much infrastructure in the cloud, it's more about getting business requirements and configurations correct than managing physical components of IT systems.

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"What mattered yesterday for tech professionals doesn't necessarily matter tomorrow. Yesterday, it was about the blinking lights, making sure the hardware worked, and asking for money to upgrade. Now the cloud provider can handle the infrastructure, and tech professionals are focused on the efficiency of their month-to-month operations while doing more to ensure a positive business performance."

Q: What types of technology skills are now the most critical to employers, especially in a rocky economy?

Williams: "Over the past few years, I've seen the demand for network and cybersecurity professionals explode. Additionally, software development that automates manual or inefficient processes is welcomed by businesses as they tighten belts. Today, we need people who can translate business speak to IT speak and vice versa. People who can hear business issues and then translate those to technological solutions is a rare skill."

Q: What types of companies have and will continue to have the strongest demand?

"In 2023 and beyond, small and midsized businesses will need to hone their digital presence in order to successfully grow and attract talent. As a result, countless companies, regardless of sector, have discovered a need for investment in IT infrastructure and automation of the client experience. That includes retail, service-based organizations, and health care. For those companies looking to drive efficiency through robotic process automation, the need for tech professionals only increases."

Q: What initiatives or actions should technology professionals take to demonstrate their value to their businesses and keep advancing in their careers?

Williams: "As businesses continue to adapt to technology, technology professionals with business acumen remain extremely sought after. For instance, a tech professional who demonstrates how costs could be offset through IT activities instead of simply outlining costs of a project is more likely to be hired or retained in the event of downsizing activity. Furthermore, tech professionals can often see around corners and understand where the industry is going before others in the organization can. Develop the ability to clearly communicate and speak the language of business leaders and investors to position yourself as a business driver and an indispensable asset.

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"Be a student of your firm. Know the income statement, the balance sheet, your competition, and your operating environment. Go to places that differentiate you, your knowledge, and your upside. To build a bridge to more senior positions, you must demonstrate an understanding of the business you're in and the role technology plays. The people who understand their operating environment and technology's place in it tend to get noticed."

Q: Should professionals consider entrepreneurial opportunities? Please provide any advice for launching or joining a startup.

Williams: "As we see tech giants downsize, laid-off employees often take the leap to start their own businesses. And that is not as risky as it sounds: Businesses often find it more appealing to outsource certain functions to a third-party, which brings a tremendous opportunity for tech professionals to be successful entrepreneurs.

"But a start-up cannot last on ideas and opportunity alone. Hopeful entrepreneurs should question their motives. Before starting a business, you should ask yourself: 'What problem am I here to solve?' 'What need does my business fill?' 'Can I defend what I'm building to friends and relatives?' Everyone loves the story of the entrepreneur, but really focus on how you can create something of value in a very crowded market.

"Entrepreneurs also need to assess talent needs: To create a rock-solid business plan, you must first realistically analyze your own strengths and weaknesses. From there, identify strong talent to fill the key gaps. Who's going to sell the product? How will you raise money? Who will communicate the value to the marketplace?

"Educate yourself on relevant regulations. A stable business is a compliant business. With growing nuances -- and, sometimes, contradictions -- across local, state, and federal regulations, it is important to research and plan for various scenarios. This includes not only limiting factors and controls but also uncovering grant, funding, procurement, and revenue opportunities that are available to you."

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