Ontario needs thousands of IT professionals

Yes Virginia, there is a shortage of qualified IT workers in Ontario.

In 2002, companies are looking to fill 38,000 IT jobs – 9,900 more that the available pool of workers, according to a comprehensive new study by the Information Technology Association of Canada (ITAC), analyst firm IDC Canada, and Aon Consulting.

Conducted earlier this year, the study tracked hot skills, education, brain drain and worker commitment in both IT-focussed businesses and IT departments in general industry.

With 60 per cent of enterprises reporting a “measurable loss” as a result of the IT skills shortage, Denis Vance, Toronto-based vice-president for consulting with analyst firm IDC Canada said that this shortage has already had a strong effect on Ontario enterprises, resulting in project delays, customer dissatisfaction and slower overall growth.

Vance said that among IT firms the most desired skills for 2002 are experience with SQL Server, Microsoft Exchange, XML and Oracle DB. Industry in general is also looking for SQL Server skills, plus security and WAN skills, and people who can run Windows NT servers. Over the next several years, the most in-demand jobs will be IT project managers, database administrators and IS business analysts, plus security and network systems specialists, he said.

For years, discussions about the IT skills shortage has been complicated by a lack of hard data to quantify the problem and develop strategies to address it, said Gaylen Duncan, president and CEO of ITAC.

With 44 per cent of workers in the IT sector, and the majority in such diverse areas as finance, manufacturing or resources, Duncan said “IT workers are everywhere. Ebbs and flows in the IT labour market are going to be felt across the whole economy.”

One piece of bright news, Vance said, is that by and large Ontario’s educational institutions have been doing a good job, with the vast majority of recent graduates surveyed saying that their IT educations had adequately prepared them for the workplace.

Additionally, IDC found that over the last four years, almost 40 per cent of graduates from university, community colleges and private IT programs have found a job in their field only a month after graduating, and 68 per cent found work within 90 days.

The study also found that with strong immigration to Ontario, there probably isn’t a net loss in the IT sector due to the so-called brain drain. However, Vance said, the jobs that are lost to the United States tend to be in intermediate or senior positions – the kind of people who are in their most productive years and who are most difficult to replace.

Vance said that a much more disturbing trend is the 10 per cent of IT workers who voluntarily give up their positions each year. With over half of the IT professionals surveyed holding three different jobs in the first five years of their career, this attrition, or “churn”, puts a heavy strain on recruiting efforts, he said.

In fact, a whopping 55 per cent of Ontario technology employees would leave their jobs for a pay raise of 20 per cent, and one-fifth would scoot for raise of only 10 per cent, said Andrew Thackray, assistant vice-president with Aon Consulting .

Employee commitment levels are of particular importance to IT because of the sector’s high level of expertise, focus on intellectual property and chronic labour shortages, said Thackray. Among the contributing factors to this churn are a lack of training for workers, murky career paths and poor change management, he said.

“(Change management) is not just about layoffs, it involves communication at the department level and making sure employees understand where the organization is going, especially in tough times… (companies need to) really focus on the techies in the organization – they are the ones leading innovation,” Thackray said.

Armed with this new survey data, ITAC’s Duncan says it is time for the industry to address some of these long-standing personnel problems.

“If you’re the head of an IT company, one of the realities you have to work with is watching your whole means of production walk off the premises everyday. You need to know that you’re doing everything you possibly can to make sure they come back tomorrow. This is the reality for us,” Duncan said.

ITAC is at http://www.ITAC.ca

IDC Canada is at http://www.idc.ca/

Aon Consulting is at http://www.aon.com