Frustrated IT job seekers descend on career fair

Despite the fact that many enterprises are complaining about an IT skills shortage, hundreds of job seekers flocked to last week’s CareerDoor HiTech job fair singing a very different tune.

The technology-specific career fair, which was held at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre, featured 20 employers, including the Bank of Montreal and Research in Motion. Job seekers had the opportunity to submit their resumes and take part in on-the-spot interviews with recruiters.

“About 50 per cent of the people here are employed, but we call them underemployed because they feel they’re deserving of a better job,” Terri Joosten, CEO at CareerDoor Inc. said. “Typically, the other half is in active job mode. Many are facing challenges because they don’t have any Canadian experience, have obsolete skills, or don’t have the communication skills to go along with the technical skills.”

Alexis Asafont, a conference attendee who recently emigrated from Cuba, said he came to the job fair looking to find an entry-level IT position. After arriving in Canada, Asafont attended triOS College of Information Technology in Mississauga, Ont. and picked up a variety of industry certifications to help him in the job search.

“In Cuba, I did everything in IT, like designing and mounting networks, supporting applications, hardware stuff, and network administration,” he said.

Despite this body of work in his home country, Asafont hasn’t found any luck overcoming his lack of Canadian experience.

For other conference goers, the situation has been different, but the end result the same. Bryan Murray, a job seeker looking to re-enter the IT industry after a 12 year stint with IBM, said his frustration has been the very narrow skill requirements that companies are looking for. After working in a technical support and leadership roles for IBM’s large mainframe systems, Murray currently works as a desk-side support contractor installing desktops and laptops.

“The frustration is a lot of companies are looking for very specific skill sets, whether it’s J2EE, Java, C++ programmers,” he said. “So for somebody who has a general background like me, it’s hard.”

Murray acknowledged the skills shortage, however, saying that companies are looking for workers who have specific skills and can step in without any training. Other job seekers agreed with his theory.

“The biggest issue that I’m running across is the specificity of the skills that people are looking for,” Christine Londry, a job seeker at the event, said. “They say ‘you must know this program if you want to work here,’ without taking into account that a lot of skills are transferable and that people can pick up a particular piece of software rather quickly.”

According to Joosten, another reason for the heavily publicized skills shortage could be the lack of participation from many enterprises in tech-specific job fairs and programs.

“We are finding that a lot of employers in print are saying they are finding it difficult getting technology talent, yet we’re not seeing them actively doing much to find that talent,” Joosten said. “We’re pleased to see the number of companies that are starting to come to events like this.”

As opposed to the sometimes ineffective online job databases, she said that in-person job recruitment events allow prospective employees a chance to meet face to face with employers and demonstrate their communication and technical skills.

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