Staying relevant in new tech world

Tech workers must analyze marketplace to identify skills that are in demand, and get training and commercial experience in these areas.
Written by Sol E. Solomon, Contributor

The fast-changing technology realm means demand for some job skills would inevitably fall. However, there are ways for tech practitioners to stay relevant in the workforce.

Richard Talbot, general manager of Sapphire Technologies Singapore, said technologies that enjoyed very high levels of demand in the past but are now less "fashionable" include COBOL, CICS, DB2, AS400, RPG, PowerBuilder and VMS.

"Most of these technologies fall into the legacy systems capacity and are being replaced by more modern technologies," Talbot told ZDNet Asia in an e-mail interview.

"Take IBM mainframe systems as an example--once the hub of all the major banks, many are now looking at or have replaced their core banking systems with modern enterprise resource planning (ERP) solutions, from major vendors such as SAP and Oracle. As such, there is little 'fresh' development on these systems," he explained. "The focus is more on maintenance until they are replaced, so demand is definitely not as great as it was a few years ago."

E. Balaji, CEO of India-based HR services provider, Ma Foi Management Consultants, said other skills such as Foxpro, Visual Foxpro, Visual Basic and Oracle D2K, have also lost their significance over the past few years.

"In general, most IT skills have not become redundant though there is a fall in the number of onsite assignments and relatively fewer new jobs," Balaji told ZDNet Asia in an e-mail interview.

"New technologies emerge faster in the IT industry compared to other industries," he said. He added that demand for some skills will dip as newer technologies come into the market and older ones are phased out, and technologies get upgraded over time.

According to Tay Kok Choon, country manager of JobStreet Singapore, high labor costs, poor business and the restructuring of business processes, too, can affect the demand of certain tech skills.

"IT professionals that are in job categories, which are no longer experiencing good growth, should consider transforming themselves," Tay said in an e-mail interview.

"Without doubt, transformation demands strong commitment and good effort on the part of the individual, but [alternative job] options are in abundance and one can choose new job categories that closely parallel their interest and experience," he said.

Balaji said it is important that IT professionals continuously update their skills on the latest technologies. "Most IT companies have in-house resource centers, e-learning tools and a published training calendar for organization-sponsored training programs," he noted. "In addition to in-house programs, employees could consider taking up programs organized by external academies."

"IT employees are also expected to keep themselves equipped with skills to handle newer versions of the technologies in which they have skills," he said.

Talbot noted that people are often tempted to "stick with what you know".

"Often, employers will tempt workers [whose skills are declining in demand] with good salaries as the companies need them to stay to work on these technologies before they are replaced," he said.

"My advice is [for employees] to try and get experience with newer technologies and understand what systems are growing in demand," he added. "If you are working with older systems, speak with your manager and agree to work on the older systems but also make an agreement that you be given the opportunity to gain experience with other systems, so your skills don't become redundant."

Talbot advised tech employees to analyze the marketplace: "If the worst happens, and you suddenly find yourself unemployed with skills that are no longer in demand, look at what's in demand and that interests you, and try and get some training or commercial experience in the area".

He said employers generally value experience over qualifications. "So even if it means a pay cut, try and get the right experience," he added.

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