New tool defines who and what tech workers are

There’s been a lot of talk about the IT job shortage, but that discussion doesn’t help those entering this industry, according to Gaylen Duncan.

“It tells them to go towards IT, but specifically what set of skills?” asked Duncan, president and CEO of Mississauga, Ont.-based Information Technology Association of Canada (ITAC).

The problem, Duncan said, is one of direction. At which market segment do students and those new to the profession target their efforts?

A new process, the Occupation Skills Profile Model (OSPM), created by the Software Human Resource Council (SHRC), aims to help delineate the market.

The OSPM was created to address the need for a Canadian product or tool that describes job skills and accountabilities across all software occupations. It is based on 24 job streams, with each further broken down into four levels, from entry-level to senior management.

“It was fairly simple to get a handle on who we thought was out there as software workers, because it was still at that time a fairly small group. As the years unfolded, it became more and more obvious that programmer, operator, and computer analyst were not the definitions that clearly defined the sector,” said Paul Swinwood, SHRC president.

“We defined what we looked at as the accountabilities and the skills of a new entrant and then we looked at the level that’s at the very top and what you knew, what did you have to add to your knowledge base, to your technology base,” Swinwood explained. “For the first time, we have a common dictionary that people can use in trying to identify the workers in all sorts of IT employment,” Swinwood said. “What we’re finally getting a handle on is being able to identify all of the IT employment in Canada.”

According to Swinwood and the SHRC Web site (, software workers, employers and educators can all use the OSPM. For software workers, it’s a yardstick for measuring present skill levels, as well as a career pathfinder, highlighting a sequence of required skills. For employers, it allows the opportunity to announce job openings briefly and coherently, as well as give HR departments and managers a standard assessment and promotion tool. Educators can ensure their curriculum is responsive to industry requirements.

“We’re going to use this information to advise people, particularly to people in junior schools: these are the job types that are high in demand,” Duncan said. “These are the kind of skills you’ll be trying to develop and learn while you’re in university, college or even high school.”

Duncan believes OSPM will guide individuals in terms of what education they pursue.

“We’re going to start balancing the job market. It is a market – it reacts to supply and demand changes,” Duncan added. “Nationally, it’s going to affect policy.”

The OSPM skills sets are not only defined but placed in context in a way that, according to the SHRC, includes a consistent base of terminology describing software duties, a widely recognized base of occupational skills profiles, and an established set of benchmarks for levels of proficiency.

“It’s not perfect, but it’s roughly 26 times better than what we had,” Duncan said.

Doug Weir, president of CompTrac, said his company crafted the architectural design of the model – the hierarchal structures.

“We used our skills dictionary as the basis for the skills component of the model,” Weir said.

Weir noted that it is absolutely essential to define jobs in terms of more granular components, called skills.

“The OSPM takes a good long step along that road.”

An OSPM corporate license is $1,000, with other prices available for specific environments.