In mid-September, IBM sent an interesting but also threatening e-mail to a number of employees in its Global Technology Services division, the arm of the company responsible for providing consulting and technology services to its biggest and most important customers. Observing that its recipients "have not kept pace with acquiring the skills and expertise needed to address changing client needs, technology and market requirements," those same recipients were ordered into a one-day-a-week training program for 23 weeks (almost half a year). During that training interval, their pay would also be docked by 10 percent, perhaps splitting the difference with those employees of the 20 percent loss in productivity that would therefore ensue. What does this decision have to tell us, and those currently playing the IT game as professionals?
Reading on into the coverage of this phenomenon, I learned that only about 100 employees received such a letter (recent reports indicate that this division employs over 150,000 people, so this is a miniscule fraction of the total population). Computerworld obtained a copy of this memo in researching its September 15 story, and quotes IBM spokesperson Trink Guarino as saying that the company "...is implementing a skills development program for a small number of U.S. strategic outsourcing employees. Under this program, these employees will spend one day a week developing skills in key growth areas such as cloud, analytics, mobile and social" (emphasis mine).
IBM employees widely interpreted this move as an attempt on IBM's part to force certain employees out of work without having to pay them severance. IBM, of course, maintains that the program is intended to make those employees more valuable and viable. Be that as it may, I'm a LOT more interested in the topics that IBM wanted those employees to study, which I interpret as follows:
1. "Cloud" refers to cloud computing, in which IBM itself has a major technology investment, and which is taking over the infrastructure level for most of what IT is and does. To learn more about interesting certifications in this area check out this article of mine "Best Cloud IT Certifications for 2014."
2. "Analytics" probably means what is often called data analytics or "Big Data," which is emerging as a popular and useful technology to help organizations realize competitive advantages, based on the ever-huger agglomerations of data they collect in the course of doing business. To learn about interesting "Big Data" certs, check out my article: "Best Big Data Certifications for 2014."
3. "Mobile" probably covers both mobile device deployment and management (often called BYOD) with perhaps an element of mobile app development thrown in for good measure. To learn more about up-and-coming certs in these arenas, try "Best Mobility Certifications for 2014."
4. "Social" indubitably refers to social networking in a business context, a preoccupation and activity that's on the minds of IT pros and strategists in many businesses and organizations nowadays, as a way to communicate and interact with customers, partners, and employees. Certification in this area is still a bit dicey, but also catching on, so you may want to read my 2012 blog post here entitled "Social Media: Valid Certs or Snake Oil?"
Whether you buy into the employee's view of IBM's move as a tactic to force unwanted employees out of their jobs, or the company's assertion that this is a purely "value-add" operation, there's no disputing that the topics singled out for coverage are hot areas for developing (and marketing) technical skills for IT professionals of all makes and models. Though the 100 recipients singled out for this attention may not like the pay cut, it's at least possible that those who diligently work through the training program might actually find their professional value and standing enhanced by the experience. It's not a bad set of marching orders (or target areas for developing skils and knowledge, if you prefer) for IT pros casting about for ways to enhance their own employability and value, with or without company support (though hopefully also sans pay cuts as well! ;-)