Differing views on IT skills crunch

YES, THERE REALLY IS AN IT SKILLS SHORTAGE, but its impact is perceived quite differently, depending on who you talk to. That was the key finding of a survey released recently by the Strategic Counsel, a Toronto-based research and consulting firm.

Respondents to the survey, commissioned by Microsoft Canada, included 100 Canadian C-level executives, 200 IT professionals and 713 post-secondary students. Ninety per cent of the respondents agreed that there is a skills shortage in Canada, but their reactions to it differed. While 96 per cent of CIOs and 77 per cent of IT professionals think it’s a serious problem, only 60 per cent of C-level executives think it is a big deal. Meanwhile, a large majority of students are eyeing opportunities outside the country.

The survey attributes this disconnect to the role that management sees IT as playing within the enterprise. More than three quarters (76 per cent) of C-level executives polled said that they see systems upkeep and maintenance as IT’s primary tasks. Nine in ten respondents said IT executives should be consulted when the business is making a strategic move, despite the fact that 69 per cent of C-level executives think “reactive” (ahead of “strategic” and “innovative”) when considering their IT staff. However, more than three-quarters of the IT professionals polled said they see themselves as more of an integral part of the business, making a difference.

“If IT’s prime goal is to keep the lights on, then that’s what they’ll want to do. If they’re not conditioned to want to drive those business benefits, then they won’t go that way,” said Warren Shiau, a lead analyst with the Strategic Counsel. “It’s just a huge vicious circle. It’s difficult to see how to combat the problem, as [these attitudes] seem to be ingrained,” he added.

The survey also found that up to 80 per cent of the IT professional’s time is given over to routine maintenance. This isn’t in line with the career aspirations of the student respondents, 77 per cent of whom say that they will look outside of Canada for fulfilling employment.

Half of the IT students and half of the non-IT students surveyed believe that Canada is currently lagging behind other high-tech countries when it comes to the adoption of new technologies. All these factors worsen the skills shortage, as they could contribute to brain-drain – or people not choosing an IT career at all.

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