Jacobs Engineering sets up an individual development plan with each IT employee to learn what skills staffers want to acquire and what their project interests and career goals are. The plan is used as a guide for career rotation roles and cross-functional assignments. "This is something we do, not just for college graduates, but for everybody," says Carmody.
Eye the horizon
What do I need to know before it gets here? "That should be the question you're always trying to answer," says Scott Caldwell, technical services manager at Johnson County Transit in Kansas City, Mo. For example, with the explosion in the popularity of tablets and smartphones, getting up to speed on mobile technology and the way it could be used at your company or in your industry is critical, because it will very likely play a role in every enterprise someday soon, if it isn't already.
"You have to seek out information and make the extra effort to find what the trends are. You want to make sure you know where things are going so you can be there," Caldwell says. "That doesn't mean you have to be an expert in mobile operating systems, but you need to know what it is and its impact on the industry as a whole."
Career strategy: Map it
Launching a job search? A good starting point is to draw a career map, which at its simplest is an inventory of your skills, experience and goals. But it should also include much more.
"It's an analysis of your competencies and past work experience, plus a forward look at possibilities," says Ginny Clarke, president and CEO of Talent Optimization Partners in Chicago and author of Career Mapping: Charting Your Course in the New World of Work.
A career map also includes an outline of how to achieve one or more of the objectives you have. This could be a list of roles to move into or projects to get involved with as a means of gaining experience and new skills. "It's like a financial plan in which you look at how much money you have, how much you want and how you intend to get there," Clarke says.
-- Julia King
In the public transportation industry, for example, officials used to buy specialized equipment for buses, but eventually that equipment was no longer needed because it was replaced by tablets. "I can go out and buy a $300 tablet to replace a $15,000 piece of equipment we would have bought five years ago," he notes.
To keep informed, Caldwell reads industry publications and websites, attends conferences, networks with friends and colleagues, and participates in gatherings of IT trade and professional groups. "Being more aware and seeking to know where the market is and what companies are doing and what the trends are in the industry all drives back to help a person take charge of their own career," he says. "If you know what's happening today and know what will happen in the future, you can start planning out what training you'll need."
At Jacobs Engineering, IT staffers can join in regular monthly project reviews that are conducted on all active programs. "We talk about risks, requirements [and] stakeholders, and we opened up these project reviews to anybody in IT who wants to learn about that project," Carmody says. IT pros everywhere should look around their own organizations for similar opportunities.
Manage your skills portfolio
One of the hallmarks of the organizations that Computerworld recognizes as Best Places to Work in IT, like Jacobs Engineering and BNSF Railway, is that they offer IT workers a variety of opportunities to broaden and deepen their skills through training programs, tuition reimbursement plans and mentoring arrangements. But such initiatives might be the exception rather than the rule; many IT employees say they are on their own when it comes to training to acquire new skills.