Wireless Becoming a Hot Career Path

Looking to beef up your resume or find a whole new IT career path? Get some wireless skills and write your own ticket.
When it comes to wireless network (WLAN) deployments in the enterprise, it's not a matter of 'if' but 'when'. And, when it comes to WLAN management, it's, definitely, not a question of 'if' but 'who'?

According to Robert Half Technology, one of the most in demand technical skills within IT departments is wireless network management.

''In our most recent survey of CIO hiring expectations, wireless network management was cited by 52 percent of respondents,'' says Jeff Markham, division director at Robert Half Technology's San Francisco location. He ranks the skill set as the second most in demand among more than 20 technical IT categories for the second quarter of 2006.

The strongest demand -- 65 percent -- for WLAN professionals was led by CIOs at companies with a 1,000 or more employees in the East/North/Central region, which is defined as Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan and Wisconsin.

But the story doesn't end there.

Looking a little deeper into Robert Half's CIO hiring trend surveys conducted over the years, reveals that CIO interest in wireless network professionals has been significant for the past six consecutive quarters, beginning in Q1 2005. According to a national poll, which focused on IT hiring expectations for Q1 2005, of more than 1,400 CIOs nationwide, 53 percent of executives ranked wireless network managerment as the second hottest skill set.

With the exception of one quarter -- Q4 2005 -- when demand for wireless network professionals slipped one slot to the number-three position for hottest IT skills in demand, wireless has held steady in the number-two seat, garnering interest that ranged between 46 percent and 53 percent beginning in Q1 2005.

Prior to Q1 2005, CIO demand for staff with wireless network skills hovered around the fifth most in-demand skill set. It actually was in the eleventh position in Q2 and Q3 of 2004. The company didn't survey for interest in WLAN skills hiring prior to 2004.

Robert Half surveys are based on a national poll that includes responses from more than 1,400 CIOs from a stratified random sample of U.S. companies with 100 or more employees. The studies are conducted by an independent research firm and developed by Robert Half Technology, and have been ongoing for more than a decade, according to the company.

Help Wanted

Take one look at the escalating interest in WLAN technology in the enterprise and it's easy to understand why CIOs are eager to find WLAN professionals for their companies.

Frost & Sullivan reports that the WLAN market, between 2003 and 2007, shows a compound annual growth rate of 20 percent. The market research company expects the enterprise WLAN market, worldwide, to exceed $2.7 billion in 2007, up from $1.5 billion in 2005.

''Companies will need someone to manage the WLANs,'' says Ronald Gruia, program leader for emerging communications at Frost & Sullivan.

While many Fortune 500 companies are running WLAN pilots to try to understand where wireless fits within their business processes, vertical industries leading the parade for WLAN deployments include large campus educational institutions, consulting, retail, health care and warehousing, according to Gruia.

At the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, the Alexandria, Va.-based national clearinghouse for the location and recovery of missing children in the United States, IT Director Steve Gelfound, has a keen interest in both wireless technology and bringing WLAN skills into his IT shop.

''At this point, our three Cisco certified network professionals have taken classes on wireless technology and will continue to do so,'' he says, adding that if the organization didn't have some level of expertise already in-house, bringing in a WLAN professional would be something they would have to do.

''Absolutely, because wireless is a budding technology and as a manager, I don't know the ins and outs of the technology but I need someone on staff who does,'' says Gelfound.

Not only is WLAN technology on the radar screen at the center -- the organization has an ongoing WLAN pilot project -- but Gelfound got a WLAN hotline up and running within 24 hours, in response to an order from the U.S. Department of Justice to handle inquiries for missing children and adults in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

According to Norm Bogen, director of networking at market research company In-Stat, the spike in interest for WLAN professionals, is a sign of momentum within the industry.

''It signals the start of movement from WLAN trails, where IT departments work to solve technology issues, to deployments,'' he says, noting that wireless in the enterprise will continue to gain strength over the next five years.

Who will be the WLAN professional in demand?

According to industry watchers, IT professionals with WLAN certifications will rise to the top of the stack of resumes. ''Certification alone won't get someone a job, but WLAN certification combined with work experience, will set someone apart from another candidate without WLAN certification,'' says Robert Half's Markham.


Enterprise WLAN isn't plug-and-play, according to Kevin Sandlin, president of the CWNP Program, WLAN certification training created by Planet3 Wireless Inc., which is based in Atlanta, Ga. He says radio frequency technology behaves differently from wired LANs and is far more unpredictable.

''Any one of a dozen factors can impact radio frequency,'' he says. ''It's a different animal than a wired LAN.''

Sandlin reports that the number of IT professionals seeking WLAN certification has shown steady growth since 2001 when CWNP offered its first WLAN certification exam.

At Cisco Systems, Don Field, director of certifications, says WLAN certification is one of the three most popular designations professionals are seeking through the vendor's certification program. ''We've seen evidence that employers value certifications in the IT professionals they hire because it demonstrates skills and competence,'' he says.

Cisco recently announced three new specialist wireless certifications in March. The company first offered WLAN certifications in December of 2001.

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