"Unless you're the guy with the in-house tribal knowledge of the company, everything else is going to wind up with a consultant or contractor," says Montalbano. He's currently working on a long-term Windows 7 deployment at a "pretty good-sized" international company. "They don't have the skills to do this in-house," he says.
Specialist or generalist?
Like many big companies, consumer products giant Kimberly-Clark is combining what were individual IT specializations, such as firewall or intrusion-detection skills, into broader job titles.
The company once had more than 300 discrete job specifications for IT roles. But now, "I'm down to about 45," says David Richter, vice president of global infrastructure and operations.
As part of a broader plan to redeploy 252 in-house IT professionals, Kimberly-Clark employees are rotating through various jobs to learn the skills they need to perform in new roles. "Our roles are more generic than previously," he says.
Richter's goal is simple: "I need a broader bench. I need people who have two or three areas of expertise," he says.
Cook Children's Health Care System in Fort Worth, Texas, is similarly de-emphasizing individual technology specializations and "melding roles," says CIO Theresa Meadows.
To cross-train workers for the broader new roles, she instituted a "pod system" where three or four people with different skills work in groups so they can learn from one another. "That's how we're beginning to address [the skills gap]," says Meadows.
Specifically, she needs more business process knowledge within her IT staff, which currently numbers around 170. "Tools are important, but it's equally important to know the business and how the tool you're implementing impacts that process. It's almost more critical to get that business process knowledge, because we can teach the tools," Meadows observes.
Dru Urbaniak works at a company far smaller than Kimberly-Clark or Cook Children's -- in fact, the systems network administrator is one of just two true IT specialists at Midwest Legal & eData Services, a Milwaukee firm specializing in document imaging, data forensics and e-discovery. He embraces the idea that an IT professional needs a broad skill set and multiple areas of expertise.
Despite all he hears about outsourcing, Urbaniak says IT still has a role to play inside organizations, even ones as small as his. "In the future, more things are going to get outsourced, but it's not going to be all or nothing," he predicts. "I could see a 75/25 split between outsourced and in-house."
In that scenario, someone will still need to be on-site with hands-on knowledge of local software, networks and hardware. "You're going to need more of a multifaceted person, not so much in-depth on any one product, but knowledgeable enough to help or know where to get help," he says.
Urbaniak knows that if he's going to be that guy, he needs to stay current in all the technologies his employer uses. "I'm a generalist. I need to keep my skills up. It's just what our industry demands," he explains.
Plan for lifelong learning
How can IT workers traverse the current skills gap and get to work on the new technologies employers say they want now? Beyond that, how should they prepare for the rapidly approaching transformation of corporate IT?
First and foremost, tech managers and employment experts assert, IT professionals must never stop learning -- even though some, if not all, of the training they need will be on their own time and on their own dime.