CIOs: 2003 a sluggish year for hiring

A recent survey of 270 Canadian CIOs, working at companies with more than 100 employees, found that projected IT hiring in 2003 is less likely to increase than in past years.

Results from the Robert Half Technology survey reveal that five percent (net) of Canadian companies expect to hire more IT staff this year. In 2002, a net of 14 percent of CIOs surveyed said they would increase their staff size, though the figure turned out to be rather optimistic. In 2001, 18 percent of CIOs said they were going to expand staff.

But Stephen Mill, regional manager at Robert Half in Toronto, sees the 2003 forecast as being a little more grounded than previous years. “It is way more realistic today,” he said.

“Now we are probably in a situation where we can surpass the five percent and I think that is more in line with how CIOs and business leaders are thinking today.

“‘Let’s quote conservatively and let’s see if we can’t surpass what we are quoting,'” is the reasoning, he added.

Ten percent of the CIOs surveyed said they planned on increasing IT staff numbers this year. Five percent said they were going to cut back, while 85 percent didn’t expect to make any changes.

Nancy Reynolds, CIO at Federal Express Canada Ltd. in Mississauga, Ont., is part of that majority. The company employs 80 people in its IT department. “I think we will (stay) fairly close to 80 people,” she said, though “there might be a little bit of expansion.

“Certainly I would agree that Fed Ex and other companies are looking to make sure that they are doing more with less people or doing more with the same amount of people,” Reynolds added.

David Wilson is also in the majority. The Regina-based executive director of IT at Qu’Appelle Health Region says 2003 will see the status quo continue. “It is pretty much static,” he said.

Wilson oversees an IT staff of 45, which runs the systems for 7,500 employees. Even after the unveiling of the Romanow report, and predictions of increased spending in health care, Wilson said it is unlikely that the funds will exist to increase IT staffing before 2004.

In some industries, however, there is a great deal more optimism. Seventeen percent of CIOs in the construction industry said they plan to increase IT staff numbers, and none forecast staff reductions.

Transportation CIOs predicted a net growth of nine percent, while the business services sector is predicted to grow by eight percent.

Mills said these numbers do not surprise him, as construction and transportation were lagging behind in their IT spending. “They don’t have any choice anymore, they have to spend,” he said.

Gaylen Duncan, president of the Information Technology Association of Canada, in Mississauga, Ont., agrees that the growth in 2003 will come from those industries that up to now have not been big IT spenders. He puts the agriculture, farming and natural resources industry in this category.

But Duncan also sees the potential for hiring growth at traditional IT juggernauts, such as financial institutions.

“I would think that they are going to start coming back out again,” he said, adding that most of their cost cutting and new products are as a result of technology.

“I don’t see them deviating from that kind of a path.”

The survey did not include the numbers of those industries that are predicting a decline in numbers. Mill said the report wanted to focus on the upside. However, he said the retail and distribution sectors will probably see IT employment numbers shrink.