Investigating 'hybrid' jobs in IT: A 'Third Way' skills set?

January 2011

Judith Glover, Director of the Centre for Organizational Research, Roehampton University Business School

The hybrid worker (defined as someone who combines technical, interpersonal and organisational skills) is the 'corporate ideal’” (Woodfield, 2000)

‘Hybrid’ jobs in the IT sector can be defined as those that combine high level technical skills and so-called ‘soft’ skills in roughly equal proportions. This piece makes the claim that these are key jobs for organisations in their complex translating and interpreting between different groups and audiences, typically clients and technical colleagues. It suggests that there may be a unique hybrid skill set that is a ‘Third Way’ between technical and soft skills.

The ‘Hybrid Jobs in the IT sector’ research project, run by Prof Judith Glover of the Roehampton University Business School in the summer of 2010, sought to clarify what was meant by hybrid jobs in the IT sector, as well as identifying the roles and aspirations of those who self-identified as being in hybrid jobs. In previous work with large employers in the IT sector Roehampton researchers had identified that employers certainly value people who work in such roles (Evans et al, 2007). But there is little in the existing literature about how employees understand the term, how they perceive their work and what they think the career consequences are of being in a hybrid job.

A call was put out on the YPG newsletter and 15 people (13 men, 2 women) replied, on the basis that they saw themselves as being in ‘hybrid’ jobs (even if they didn’t themselves use that term). Because they were all members of the Young Professional Group of the BCS, it is reasonable to see them as being in early or fairly early phases of careers. Almost all had a strong technical background, with technical degrees and/or substantial experience in technical roles.

A Third Way?

A central question relates to career progression for people in hybrid jobs. Is it possible to have a job ladder for those with hybrid skills in hybrid jobs? If the answer is a yes or a maybe, then a distinctive hybrid skills set would need to be identified.

Soft skills may be difficult to quantify, but is this also the case for hybrid skills? Is there some means of making concrete this complex to- and fro-ing between audiences, such that the skills are explicitly valued and rewarded? This is a skills set that could be seen to occupy a third space - neither solely technical nor solely ‘soft’, but rather a distinct set occupying a space in between; the overlapping portion of a Venn diagram. One respondent talked about:

“Two previously distinct sets, now seen as a combination into a new set of skills that encapsulates a bit of both.”

Perhaps this ‘Third Way’ could be covered by SFIA’s ‘stakeholder relationship management’ category: the coordination of relationships with and between key stakeholders, during the design, management and implementation of business change. But, crucially, it does not encompass the high level technical skills that the respondents saw as key to their effectiveness, and which they themselves did not wish to lose. And it doesn’t give the flavour of the interpreting and translating skills that the respondents talked about.

In doing this research, I was struck by the enthusiastic way that the respondents described their work, and by the complexity of their skills. Giving a meaningful name to this third skill set may be the first step towards making ‘hybrid’ jobs recognisable in career and organisational terms. Most respondents assumed that to progress they would need to join the management ladder, where their technical skills would be less in demand and could become outdated.

If there is interest in discussing this research further, I would be happy to do so, either individually or witha YPG group. A fuller version can be sent to you if you email Judith Glover.

References

EVANS, C., GLOVER, J., GUERRIER, Y and WILSON, C (2007) Effective Recruitment Strategies and Practices: addressing skills needs and gender diversity challenges in ITEC and related sectors, London: Equalitec

SFIA (Skills for the Information Age)

WOODFIELD, R. (2000) Women, Work and Computing. Cambridge: CambridgeUniversity Press.

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