Academic journal article Journal of Information Technology Education

Critical Skill Sets of Entry-Level IT Professionals: An Empirical Examination of Perceptions from Field Personnel

Academic journal article Journal of Information Technology Education

Critical Skill Sets of Entry-Level IT Professionals: An Empirical Examination of Perceptions from Field Personnel

Article excerpt

Introduction

Information technology (IT) professionals constitute one of the greatest cadres of knowledge workers in modern organizations today. Knowledge workers make up over one-half of the US workforce (Laudon & Laudon, 2004) and include IT professionals such as programmers, analysts, database administrators, web designers, and network specialists. According to the "Tomorrow's Jobs" section of the 2006-2007 Occupational Outlook Handbook, five of the top dozen fastest growing occupations in the next decade are computer-related (U.S. Department of Labor, 2006). These facts notwithstanding, the IT field has long been plagued by high turnover and late project delivery dates. In a survey of 217 Chief Information Officers, 59% reported inadequate staffing levels and a high average turnover rate of 37% (Ware, 2005). One of the factors leading to these problems is that potential IT employees are inadequately prepared (e.g., Fang, Lee, & Koh, 2005). When entry-level IT personnel do not possess the skills to effectively perform their duties, organizations face increased training demands, poor performance and efficiency, and increased turnover.

Understanding the skill sets required of entry-level personnel is critical to both organizations and the institutions that train them. For businesses, it is important from both training and hiring perspectives. Hiring properly trained individuals allows organizations to spend less time preparing new staff, thus more efficiently incorporating them into the workplace. For colleges, universities, and technical institutions, understanding the required skill sets is critical for curriculum maintenance and development.

This study empirically investigated which IT skills are most important for entry-level employees, using a sample of IT professionals from six companies (public and private) in the mid-South of the USA. Using a framework that divided skills into four major areas (IS Core Knowledge, Proficiencies, Business Expertise, and Personal Attributes), the present inquiry provided comparisons of skills among and within these areas using an empirical component not found in previous studies. The investigation also examined other aspects that may influence a respondent's choice of important skills, such as demographic factors, experience, and type of organization. The results offer a comprehensive, updated and statistically valid set of skills that will be of importance and use to both public and private organizations, as well as universities, colleges, and technical institutes.

Background

It is a common notion that IT graduates may lack the necessary skills to be successful in entry-level IT positions (Cappel, 2001/2002; Fang et al., 2005; Noll & Wilkins, 2002; Young & Lee, 1997). Some studies report a widening gap between expected skill sets of new IT employees and those skills taught in educational institutions (Cappel, 2001/2002; Tang, Lee, & Koh, 2000/2001). One reason for this predicament is the challenge of properly identifying entry-level skills required in the IT field. As a discipline, IT is constantly changing, with rapid advances in technology, shifting job descriptions, and an increasing number of diverse factors that influence job success. In addition, shifting industry patterns, greater competition, outsourcing, and globalization are blurring both job requirements and skills that are in demand (Lee & Lee, 2006).

Given the critical nature of understanding which skills are important, it is surprising that there is no established consensus regarding core skills required of IT professionals. Difficulties in gauging skill importance may stem from the fact that skill needs change as professionals establish their careers (e.g., Kovacs, Davis, Caputo, & Turchek, 2005; Lee, Yen, Havelka, & Koh, 2001). For example, Lee et al. (2001) reported that technical skills are more important during the earliest part of an IT career; non-technical skills become increasingly more important as careers develop. …

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