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Job Specialization - Boon or Bane?

By Ted Manasa,

An article I recently read suggested that a reason employers are having a difficult time finding qualified IT employees might be the result of the narrow focus of the employer's own requirements. This makes sense. As the number of different technologies and industries in which we specialize grows, it is more and more difficult for us workers to maintain a wide range of skills with requisite depth. If you check job descriptions these days, it's not surprising to find something like: "Required skills: 5+ years of database administration on Sybase, in a data warehousing environment, with .NET experience, Web Sphere experience, in the pharmaceutical industry." On top of that, you would typically see a long list of "experience with X a big plus."

Well, requirements like that really limit the number of qualified candidates available.

The good news for us is that, if we are qualified, we can command a good wage/rate - standard supply and demand curve economics. The bad news is that, in order to become qualified, you need to spend a lot of time within a very particular constellation of areas, which can make you a lot less able to move around.

My personal experience has reflected this. The more experience I get, the better the positions I can find, but the fewer of those positions there seem to be. Thus, when I want to change locations/companies for any number of reasons, my flexibility has become more diminished over time.

Obviously, some career paths and specializations are more flexible than others, and some of us may never encounter much difficulty moving around. If all things were equal, the specific requirements by employers, and the focused skill sets of employees, generally work well together. But not all things are equal. The number of technologies various industries have to choose from grows daily. However, the capacity for employees to add on those new technologies to their skill set, to a usable degree, is finite, for all intents and purposes.

For one particular position, I was the only one interviewing. They had many applicants apply, only two qualified candidates, and only one willing to relocate. The employer commented that this was a serious problem for them.

This situation applies across all industries, and not just IT. But few industries experience the same kind of change, quarter over quarter, that we do. The sheer array of technologies a person could, and might need to, specialize in today is humbling.

As either an employer or employee, have you seen or experienced the same? What, if anything, can we do about it?

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