ITIL® and Prince2 continued to star as growth subjects in the IT training arena last year. Leadership courses aimed at IT professionals are also becoming a more frequent part of the mix on offer, while the technical certification remains steady.

As the IT landscape matures and become integrated into businesses, IT roles are shifting with an increasing emphasis on the grey area where technical knowhow meets business needs.

'Five years ago training was very software specific,' says Melanie Franklin, CEO of Maven Training. 'Now, IT staff need more general management, change management and leadership skills.'

Over the last year, ITIL® and Prince2 are cited by many training companies as generating growth for them, while demand for technical courses is relatively steady and leadership courses are tipped as the next growth area.

'Demand for technology training is fairly constant,' says James Cook, partnership director at KnowledgePool. 'Microsoft has fallen as a percentage of the training business, but it's stayed fairly constant overall while subjects such as Prince2 and ITIL® have grown and are still increasing. The amount of providers offering these subjects has risen dramatically. Almost every organisation now offers it.'

Service management (for which ITIL® has emerged as the leading best practice standard) and project management (particularly best practice standard, Prince2) tend to form a category of their own, sitting between the hard core technical subjects - the Microsofts and Oracles of the world - and subjects that are purely 'soft skills' such as time or people management.

They are often classified as best practice or professional qualifications. Both ITIL® and Prince2 had their origins in the UK IT industry and have a natural association with the IT training providers. Both involve skills that many people in the industry require - service and projects being bedrocks of the industry, so their dramatic growth is perhaps not so surprising.

ITIL® has flourished this decade with almost half a million people worldwide now having sat the certification since its start in the 1980s. In May last year, the ITIL® core guidance was upgraded to version 3 and accompanying qualifications began to be developed. Foundation courses were launched almost immediately but the gradual introduction of higher level syllabuses has, slowed growth in ITIL® last year, according to certain training companies.

However, in the case of ITIL®, weakness is all relative. 'ITIL® was the weakest part of our business last year but it still had 15-16 per cent growth,' says Eddie Kilkelly, managing director of ILX Group, where revenue increased by 24 per cent in 2007. 'We have trained huge amounts of people in ITIL® Foundation version 3. Once the intermediate level qualifications are ready, we expect the floodgates to open.'

In the project management arena, Prince2 is also still strong. Launched in 1996, by the middle of last year more than 200,000 people had taken Prince2 foundation level worldwide with around 80 per cent in the UK, according to the OGC.

'There are no signs of project management, nor ITIL®, waning,' says Richard Chappell, UK MD, Learning Tree International.

There is also a new related star in the arena: project management's big brother, the OGC-launched programme management certification, Managing Successful Programmes (MSP).

Kilkelly points out: 'There’s been significant growth in MSP but the market is nowhere near the size for Prince2 or ITIL®.'

Others think it could really take off. Chappell, for example, thinks MSP is a growing sphere, while Franklin says Maven Training’s programme management business increased by about 40 per cent last year and sees further room for a lot more growth.

'Many people have now got project management qualifications and are thinking "what next"?' she says. 'Programme management and change management are the logical next steps.

'When people who work in project management go on courses in programme management it widens their horizons and puts what they do into context. They see how their job fits into the strategic picture, which they need to understand if they want to progress. Programme management gives them perspective.'

Chappell adds another possible growth subject in the grey area between technical and soft skills - business analysis. Franklin sees change management as another one to watch.

'The growth of change management is due to people in IT seeing that projects do not deliver because there is no change management,' she says. ‘A lot of people going on change management courses are interested to see why people resist change.'

A recent Gartner report sounds a similar note. It claimed that experienced IT practitioners, including current chief information officers (CIOs), need to acquire some non-IT business unit management experience if they wish to viably pursue new CIO opportunities.

'Professional qualifications and competence are still necessary for those wanting to become CIOs, but these qualities will not be sufficient in coming years,’ says Ken McGee, distinguished analyst and Gartner Fellow.

To help make IT professionals move into management, Franklin thinks leadership courses are set to flourish.

'If a person is technologically competent, that does not mean the company would let them automatically go into management. But if they have done a course, you would be more confident they have the basics. A course shows that they are ready for a move. It’s one way of breaking the circle of not having experience.'

Training companies certainly foresee more demand in this area, and Xpertise and QA-IQ have made recent announcements of new courses. Xpertise has launched a range of 'intensive development programmes', which include a course entitled 'Soft Skills for IT Professionals'.

QA-IQ meanwhile this April launched a new accredited programme for management development in partnership with Middlesex University's Institute for Work Based Learning. Together they are offering a certificate, diploma and advanced diploma in management.

John Kauffman, managing director of QA-IQ, says: 'We are looking for accreditation for the areas of soft skills, management and personnel development, as there is not much there at the moment. It's important for us to look at how to create third party accreditation.'

All this talk of soft skills does, however, not spell the end of technical courses. In fact their strength depends very much on who you talk to. Ian Johnson, managing director of Xpertise reported that the company's core IT skills business was up by 18 per cent last year while professional skills (project and service management) rose by 15 per cent. For ILX Group, Kilkelly however says the opposite is true with best practice courses particularly strong, while pure technical subjects grew less.

Chappell points out: 'There are some pretty good technologies coming out at the moment. They are not add-ons or tweaks, and not plug in and play - you need to learn them. Sharepoint is one to watch as it coming stronger, as is SQL Server 2008.'

Johnson of Xpertise agrees about SQL Server and adds .net, and visualstudio to the list.

Kauffman is backing virtualisation as a large growth area for this year, which ties up with findings from an NCC survey in March which predicted that virtualisation and storage area networks would feature prominently on IT organisations' shopping lists in 2008, as would Microsoft purchases.

In the enterprise resource planning arena, Assima DACG found that last year SAP and Oracle were strong and expects them to remain so this year.