U.S. IT workers are needed and encouraged to take jobs in Canada, according to Keith Parsonage, director general of Industry Canada’s Information and Communications Technologies branch. In a recent interview with Computerworld U.S.’s Patrick Thibodeau, Parsonage discussed the opportunities and lifestyle that await IT workers in Canada. Excerpts from that interview follow:

Computerworld: Many U.S. companies are sending application and maintenance development work to Canada. What impact is that having on your IT sector?

Keith Parsonage: It is very difficult to break down the statistics overall. But the computer services area, throughout the whole upturn in the late 1990s and the downturn, continued to grow steadily at eight per cent to nine per cent a year. It was not affected at all by the tech swing.

CW: The value of the Canadian dollar, though still favorable to the U.S., has been on the rise. What impact will that have on nearshore development?

KP: I think it’s going to force it to be that much sharper. But I don’t think it’s going to rise to where you will see a loss of our competitive edge.

CW: What are your cost advantages?

KP: Our health care system confers very significant benefits to employers. We have a universal health care program here in Canada.

CW: So the employer in Canada pays a fraction of what a U.S. firm pays for health care?

KP: Exactly. That’s one of the reasons why we’re so competitive – because of the difference in health care cost. The other big issue is turnover. For some strange reason, Canadians are pretty loyal to their employers.

CW: How healthy is your technology labour market?

KP: At the moment, we have over 600,000 (IT) workers. As of September, the unemployment rate for (IT) professionals was 4.8 per cent versus an overall unemployment rate of 7.8 per cent.

CW: Canada has suffered a brain drain of talented tech workers heading to the States. Is that reversing?

KP: Certainly there was a phenomenon of talent moving down to the States during those boom years. But we also had talent from around the world pouring into Canada because we had a much more liberal immigration policy, particularly with software workers, in which we would actually fast-track them into the country. Which is quite different from the H-1B visa process which you have in the States.

CW: So it’s easy for a U.S. citizen to work in Canada?

KP: Absolutely. They have to show a bona fide job offer in Canada and then meet a career profile for various types of tech workers that sets requirements for education, training and programming language knowledge, published by the Software Human Resource Council.

CW: Is there a demand for U.S. workers in Canada?

KP: Yes, there is. Come to Canada. In fact, you may end up working for your same company.

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