Tech worker characteristics for the 21st century

Filed under: Focus |

In many sectors of the economy, workers involved in a technical field or industry seem to be facing fears and anxieties. Changes over the past few years have laid heavy on their minds and there is a prevailing sense of uncertainty. Is this fear and anxiety based upon fact, or the paranoia developed by the technology bust earlier this decade? Like many areas, there is probably a little of both.

Technology has been hard hit, especially in Colorado over the past few years, and many business models have further emphasized cost-cutting strategies. Workers have seen many jobs go away or simply be shipped overseas where the cost of labor is dramatically lower. The day of the high paid and sought after technology specialist seems to be going the way of the tyrannosaurus rex. Many workers in the technology field are asking the difficult questions, which may involve a complete career re-tooling. Within this anxiety and fear, is there good news? What do many of these technology workers need to do to take advantage of the changing landscape?

First it is apparent many programming jobs are being outsourced overseas to countries such as India. Overseas there are skilled programmers who can produce quality work for a considerably lower cost than doing the work in this country. Many organizations are exploring the possibility of such partnerships. Second, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, preliminary non-farm business sector productivity increased 8.1 percent in the third quarter of 2003. Productivity is up which may signify that work advances in technology are allowing fewer employees to produce more, affecting the demand for workers. Finally, many of the jobs of the past will simply not return. As a result of technological advances and lower prices, the need for specialists to come in and design a custom system for a specific application is becoming less frequent. Pre-packaged programs are now able to do much of this work at a fraction of the cost and time. In addition, many believe some technology jobs will gravitate to blue-collar jobs in the coming years.

What good news comes out of all of this seemingly discouraging information? First, a large percentage of the jobs in existence today will not be around in ten years; however, many new jobs will be created within the coming decade, which are not even imagined today.

According to Robert Reich, professor of economic policy at Brandeis University, U.S. companies are strategically outsourcing standard high-tech work while simultaneously shifting their in-house IT employees to higher valued functions which require more innovation, creation, and integration.

Technology workers will need to continually re-tool their skills and obtain higher-level competencies to be successful. Second, many jobs will be done overseas to decrease costs and increase profitability.

However, the one area the American worker has often been good at doing is being more innovative, creative and flexible than many workers in other countries. Certain jobs can be accomplished overseas, but there will still be the need for innovative thinking, critical thinking and high-level problem solving skills workers in this country have time and time again demonstrated they could excel at in challenging situations.

This situation will create many new and innovative jobs for American technology workers. They will need to be more than a technician, and develop higher-level skills. There will still be a need for workers to provide the communication, negotiation and management skills that can’t be outsourced. According to Reich, “There is no necessary limit to the number of high-tech jobs around the world, because there is no finite limit to the ingenuity of the human mind.”

Many of these skills mirror what Daniel Goleman referred to as “emotional intelligence.” Goleman theorized, and even documented in several studies, the success factors of leaders and workers with a high level of emotional intelligence. These leaders had the ability to manage and monitor their own emotions in many areas.

Some of these areas included the ability to demonstrate high levels of stress management, communications skills and problem-solving abilities. According to Goleman, there is a significant link between the emotional intelligence of leaders and the performance of their employees. The successful leader with high emotional intelligence demonstrates “initiatives, nurture of others, team leadership, self-confidence and drive to achieve.” The great thing about these skills is they can be learned.

It is vital for those in the technology sector to improve these skills to remain marketable. Employees need to bring added value benefits to the table. Reich also states many high-tech workers in the future will act like management consultants, strategists and troubleshooters. The skills required for these positions will involve higher-level thinking, critical thinking, creative thinking and better than average communication skills. It will be incumbent upon those high-tech workers to follow a self-development plan of education and training that meets these requirements. If high-tech workers avoid such development they will find their skills obsolete.

Mike Phillips is campus college chair of graduate business for University of Phoenix in Colorado. Michael Hebert is campus college chair, undergraduate business for University of Phoenix in Colorado.