A Jack of One Trade: The Age of Hyperspecialization

In the past, the widespread subcontracting of IT Talent was driven by cost reductions—but today, it’s more and more driven by what Harvard Business Review calls the impending “Age of Hyperspecialization.” As we learned in 1776 from Adam Smith’s The Wealth of Nations, hyperspecialization is the division of labor into ever smaller tasks, performed by ever more specialized workers. Hyperspecialization is exploding, driving companies to partner with outside talent and staffing companies as a way to access critical skills they don’t have internally.

In 2012, this hyperspecialization trend was rampant in CIO hiring practices. When asked what their organization’s current approach to hiring permanent IT staff was, 36% of CIOs polled said they were actively looking to staff up, but only for very specialized tech or business. And 16% percent of CIO’s reported that the primary area they spent their time in 2012 was recruiting IT talent, up from 10% in 2011.

So, hyperspecialization of skillsets is driving companies to consider outsourced talent options—but what’s driving the overall hyperspecialization trend? Most would argue that it’s the rapid and consistent proliferation of new technology. For example, in addition to the thousands of content management systems on the market, there were 22 new PHP systems and 12 new Java systems released in 2012 alone—and these new systems require new programming languages and specialists that speak those languages. “The emergence of a new language is almost always tied to needs in a specific sector,” says Andrew Binstock. “For example, Ruby’s sudden adoption when Ruby on Rails appeared, and Objective-C’s surge, which began in 2007 when the iPhone first shipped.”

This cause-and-effect scenario will inevitably continue. Some pundits suggest that there will be as much change in the next seven years as in all of the 20th century. That’s not as extreme as it sounds—after all, the Internet only emerged in 1994, and Google only became available to the public in 1999. Cloud computing, personal tablets, and mobile apps were virtually unheard of ten years ago, but are now the stars of today’s tech scene. And looking ahead, IBM has already created “cognitive computers” inspired by the human brain, which will require a new kind of programming far different than today’s computers that still derive themselves from FORTRAN (a programming language developed in the 1950s for ENIAC).

Given this constantly changing technology landscape, subject matter experts (SME’s) that can speak the latest programming language or operate the newest open source platform are and will continue to be in high demand (translation: they are hard-to-find and expensive to hire). There’s hardly such thing as just a “software developer” now—but there are Django developers, Ektron developers, and Java developers, just to name a few. Organizations usually don’t have the time or the money to hire a new SME for every IT initiative, which is why staffing is a great way to get the critical skills they need to keep up while still controlling costs and boosting productivity.

Companies that don’t adjust talent strategies, which will require hiring workers with new IT skillsets, will be left behind. A recent Computing Technology Industry Association global study said that 80% of organizations reported their business had been negatively affected by failures to keep up with technology. Most organizations surveyed plan to train or retrain staff where skills are lacking (57%), outsource work (38%), hire new staff with the desired skills (25%), or support programs that encourage students to enter technical fields (6%).

What will your solution be?

For more information on market trends like driving companies to consider staffing solutions, check out 5 Signs That IT Talent Outsourcing is on the Rise.