Bad news is brewing in the C-suite: 73 percent of CEOs believe finding talent with the right skills is a top threat to their organization’s growth prospects, according to PwC’s 2015 global CEO survey. But that could be good news for project practitioners. A talent gap means that—with the right skills and ambition—it might be the time to land a dream job.
“The outlook for project practitioners is very optimistic, because increasing globalization, competition and the pace of business change all underscore the need for well-executed projects that deliver strategic value,” says Galen Townson, PMP, project management practice adviser at the United Nations Office for Project Services, Perth, Australia.
Yet, while the need for skilled project talent is far-reaching, challenges and outlooks vary by industry. These seven sectors have a clear need for project management expertise—offering big opportunities for anyone looking to get hired or get ahead.
Telecom: Rapid Evolution
The world is increasingly interconnected. Smartphones, tablets and mobile networks are bringing more people online, while the Internet of Things (IoT) is connecting everything from toothbrushes to delivery trucks to the Internet. And it’s not just consumers who are benefiting. Industries from manufacturing to shipping to agriculture are launching projects to integrate Internet-enabled devices to digitize processes and boost efficiency and quality.
In Germany, Deutsche Telekom, SAP and Siemens have invested in a portfolio of smart factories and IoT devices. In the United States, AT&T partnered with IBM and Mueller Water Products on a smart cities program, and last June the companies announced three new trial projects to better control water management. In India, the State Bank of India is partnering with telecom firm Bharti Airtel to develop mobile banking apps for people without access to traditional bank accounts.
“Rapid market growth and widespread product development is a boon for job-seeking practitioners.”
—Marco De Santis, PMP, Telecom Italia Information Technology, Rome, Italy
“I can feel the innovation winds blowing through my industry every day—platform and system technical innovations, process workflow and reporting innovations,” says Marco De Santis, PMP, PMO in portfolio project management, Telecom Italia Information Technology, Rome, Italy. Rapid market growth and widespread product development is a boon for job-seeking project practitioners, with particularly robust opportunities in the United States, England and India, says Mr. De Santis.
“For telecom projects, there’s an increasing need to use virtual teams spread all over the world,” says Tiago Magalhaes, CAPM, PMP, network engineer, Ericsson, a Global Executive Council member, São Paulo, Brazil. “The challenges of collaborating virtually are everywhere, but so are the job opportunities. Project professionals in the telecommunications field should be optimistic.”
To stand out from other candidates in this sector, Mr. De Santis recommends practitioners strengthen and highlight their change management chops. “Innovation won’t take hold without skillful change management and creating an environment where executives and employees can get past natural resistances.”
Construction: Surging and Shifting
Booming cities from Santiago, Chile to Beihai, China have a relentless demand for new office buildings, roads, pipelines, schools, housing complexes, power plants and other vital infrastructure.
The growth of the global construction market continues to shift away from developed nations and toward emerging markets, thanks to rapid urbanization and economic growth. The construction market in Western Europe, for instance, is expected to be almost 5 percent smaller by 2025 than it was in 2007, according to PwC’s Global Construction 2025 report. In contrast, China is expected to account for 26 percent of all construction activity by 2025, despite its current economic slowdown.
“African economies have a skills shortage, so engineers and project managers are sought after, especially by the large engineering companies.”
—Gregory Skeen, Group Five, Johannesburg, South Africa
Other emerging economies are seeing a surge in project activity as well. “In sub-Saharan Africa, development is happening at a rapid pace, with many economies growing at over 6 percent per year, and some as much as 8 percent or 9 percent,” says Gregory Skeen, development manager, Group Five, Johannesburg, South Africa. “African economies have a skills shortage, so engineers and project managers are sought after, especially by the large engineering companies.”
Practitioners who have experience and command strong skills in cost management, risk management, and quality and safety management won’t last long on the job market. “Projects are long dura- tion—sometimes 10 years or more—and involve multidisciplinary engineering teams,” explains Tapan Agarwal, PMP, associate, water and urban development division, AECOM, Singapore. “Project managers who have substantial experience in the field with these projects are more likely to get promoted.”
Energy: High-Voltage Volatility
Roiled by wild price swings, tightening environmental regulations and revamped business models, energy organizations are in a period of incredible flux. At the same time, many markets are seeing highly skilled senior practitioners leave the employment ranks at a faster clip than they’re being replaced. But with aging infrastructure in sore need of an upgrade, transformational technologies are presenting new possibilities for all-star project talent to shine.
“The industry is poised for a dramatic change,” says Brandon Lane, PMP, director, enterprise project management center of excellence, Duke Energy, Charlotte, North Carolina, USA. “While I continue to see a need for traditional infrastructure investment, such as power plants, energy portfolios are becoming more diverse.”
Solar and wind met 3 percent of the world’s energy needs in 2014, and analysts at BP expect that figure to rise to 8 percent by 2035. Global organizations have already approved massive project investments. For instance, Verizon recently launched a US$100 million program in the U.S. to power its facilities and cellular network infrastructure in part with solar panels. And mining companies have launched remote projects, mostly in Chile, that get at least half of their power from solar or wind.
“I see abundant opportunities for project managers with an IT or technology focus.”
—Brandon Lane, PMP, Duke Energy, Charlotte, North Carolina, USA
But renewable energy isn’t the only disruptive force in the field. New technologies have also taken center stage on more traditional energy projects.
“We’ve seen continued investments to address cyber and grid-security threats, and a number of initiatives to modernize the electric grid while providing customers with more information and control,” says Mr. Lane. “I see abundant opportunities for project managers with an IT or technology focus.”
In the United States alone, power utility companies will need to hire 150,000 additional workers in IT-intensive roles by 2030, according to a study by the Task Force on America’s Future Energy Jobs. And a PwC survey of oil and gas leaders across the African continent found that recruiting and retaining people with the right skills was the third most likely factor to impact business over the next three years.
For practitioners looking to stand out on the job market, Mr. Lane recommends honing requirements gathering and risk management skills. “Many of the challenges with energy projects come back to poorly defined requirements and a lack of active risk management throughout the life cycle of the project.”
IT: Security Wanted
2015 was not a good year for cybersecurity. The global number of cyberattacks on large organizations climbed 40 percent in 2014 alone, according to the annual Internet Security Threat Report, putting significant segments of personal information and sensitive data at risk.
But this nefarious activity has a silver lining for project practitioners: an explosion of new opportunities for IT project talent.
“Cybersecurity isn’t a passing issue, and it isn’t limited to tech companies,” says Joseph L. Mayes, PMP, IT security project manager, Citizens Property Insurance Corp., Jacksonville, Florida, USA. “Information security has arrived as an official cost of doing business.”
Yet many organizations are struggling to find the project talent to manage strategic security initiatives. Cisco’s 2014 Annual Security Report warns that the global shortage of information security professionals stands at 1 million, even as data breaches are on the rise. And more than 26 percent of security projects are hindered by inadequate staffing, according to a global survey of IT professionals by enterprise research firm 451 Research.
“To take on projects with cross-cultural teams allocated in different locations around the world, we need project managers who can inspire and motivate, and deliver the right message at the right time.”
—Eric Pepin, PMP, PgMP, Ubisoft, Shanghai, China
Even beyond security projects, IT job openings are on the rise. A 2015 data analysis by Wanted Analytics found that IT managers were one of the top five in-demand positions. And a 2014 survey of technology executives by talent firm Robert Half Technology showed that while 89 percent of executives are somewhat or very confident about their companies’ growth prospects, 61 percent say they’re facing recruiting challenges.
Particularly on the sprawling, complex projects that are becoming commonplace, project managers must be prepared to employ expert communication skills, says Eric Pepin, PMP, PgMP, human resources director, Ubisoft, Shanghai, China.
“We’ve seen many project managers who are really technical, but to take on projects with crosscultural teams allocated in different locations around the world, we need project managers who can inspire and motivate, and deliver the right message at the right time.
Aerospace & Defense: Quality Over Quantity
Satellite technology is fueling economic development in emerging markets, where public and private organizations are doubling down on aerospace projects— even as U.S. and European governments scale back. While the United States maintains its top spot in space budgets, China, Russia and India are in second, third and fourth place, respectively.
Though belt-tightening has been prevalent in U.S. and European space budgets, that doesn’t mean fewer projects—or project management opportunities for those looking to get hired. Instead, the sector has seen a rise of lean, tightly controlled budgets and public-private partnerships to maximize program value.
“There are many public-sector federal positions that need skilled project managers,” says Damian Heaney, PMP, senior program manager, Lockheed Martin, San Antonio, Texas, USA. He points to cost control as one area where practitioners looking to get hired can set themselves apart. “Defense industry modernization programs are constantly under scrutiny. You need to understand the risk associated with fixed-price or cost-reimbursable contracts supporting defense initiatives.”
Airline supply chains could also offer big career opportunities for project practitioners. Global airline workloads are expected to surge 45 percent by 2017, according to an aerospace report by Clearwater International. But airlines aren’t just demanding more aircraft; they also need more technologically complex designs that incorporate breakthroughs in fuel-efficient engine technologies, composite materials and more sophisticated braking and electric systems. More than one-fifth of suppliers are not prepared financially to support the high ramp-up ahead of them, according to a recent supply chain analysis by PwC. So project talent with strong change management skills should be able to capitalize on this sector’s growth.
Finance: Going Digital
With a raft of compliance projects now in their rear view mirror, many organizations in the finance industry are focused on the next frontier: digitization.
Implementing a digital strategy displaced regulation as the top concern among banking leaders, according to a survey by the Economic Intelligence Unit. Digital portfolios in the finance sector aim to replace silos of information with a single, holistic view of the customer and to access real-time data. Projects range from mobile apps that allow customers to securely transfer funds to major change initiatives to move beyond legacy systems.
At CBW bank in Weir, Kansas, USA, for instance, developers are working on a project to create “contextual” debit and credit cards that would allow bank customers to set specific parameters around when they could be used (such as a parent giving a debit card to a child to use during lunchtimes). The Central Bank of Nigeria is moving forward with project plans to incorporate biometric security, such as facial recognition, at about 1,000 branches across the country. And financial firms in the Asia-Pacific region and Europe, Middle East and Africa are leading the way when it comes to embracing the cloud, with 41 percent and 35 percent respectively adopting cloud strategies, according to a 2015 Cloud Security Alliance global survey of finance leaders.
“Many project practitioners lack the technicalities of the financial domain, which prevents them from taking a leadership role and creates a talent gap.”
—Indranil Mukherjee, PMP, Barclays UK, Warrington, England
To reap the benefits of digital projects—better customer interfaces, greater operational efficiency and sharper analytics—financial firms are desperate to find project practitioners who can guide organizations safely into the future. Nearly 80 percent of CEOs now look for a broader range of skills than they have in the past, but finding candidates with a hybrid of project management skills and financial services know-how is proving to be an uphill battle.
Which means project practitioners with a nose for numbers can have their pick of plum assignments in this sector.
Healthcare: Ability to Adapt
Access is front and center as the healthcare industry transitions into the digital age. Customers increasingly want digital access to their health information and a direct line to communicate with their doctors. “Health IT is very dynamic. And as the pace of change has accelerated, so has demand to deliver projects and programs quicker, more reliably and with greater ability to adapt to change—a trend that will only continue through 2016,” says Jen Skrabak, PMP, PfMP, director of the project management office, UnitedHealth Group, Los Angeles, California, USA.
Nearly half of healthcare business leaders report that offering mobile access to information is a high priority at their organization, according to the 2015 HIMSS Mobile Technology Survey. And 30 percent of organizations have app development projects underway. Yet, like other sectors where technology is causing widespread disruption, talent recruitment is an ulcer-causing issue for many leaders. More than 4 in 5 healthcare CEOs are somewhat or very concerned about the availability of key skills, according to PwC.
While technical know-how might seem like the standout need, it’s actually savvy change management that can separate all-star project practitioners, says Rose Ann Radosevic, PMP, group director of investment portfolio management at Canada Health Infoway, Toronto, Ontario, Canada. “Because these projects involve changes to the daily workflows of healthcare providers, it’s absolutely crucial to engage and involve them in every step along the way,” she says.
“Complex technology projects and business transformation projects are two hot spots in healthcare, and practitioners that can do them well will always be in demand.”
—Jen Skrabak, PMP, PfMP, UnitedHealth Group, Los Angeles, California, USA
The need for access is more basic in emerging markets, where rising populations and a surging middle class are demanding healthcare projects that improve access to quality care. In China, for instance, the government announced plans last July to expand the local health services industry to more than US$1.3 trillion by 2020, including a program to develop online medical consultation systems for rural areas. The government also recently issued policies that would scale back its bureaucratic red tape and make it easier for private companies to invest in hospital projects.
“Complex technology projects and business transformation projects are two hot spots in healthcare, and practitioners that can do them well will always be in demand,” Ms. Skrabak says.