Preparing for the gathering storm

For many years now, industry forecasters have been warning us of the darkening clouds that are forming on the IT labour front. For the most part, the predictions have proved gloomier than the marketplace reality, but that may not be the case for long. In my three decades of covering the Canadian IT industry, I can’t remember a time when more credible commentators from more parts of the industry have been so uniform in their warnings of an impending labour market storm.

IT World Canada’s recently released 2008 IT Job Market and Salary Survey provides further indications that trouble may be coming. Describing the situation as “a dangerous one for the industry”, the survey found that the country’s IT workforce is aging rapidly, with a current average age of 43. Meanwhile, many seasoned veterans are eyeing early retirement, while new entrants into the profession are falling far below the levels needed to fill the vacant posts.

According to the survey, a five percent increase in the workforce will be needed to meet 2008 hiring plans. But that’s likely an unreachable target, considering that the IT workforce has grown by less than seven percent over the past five years.

The coming IT labour crunch is a problem not only for CIOs but also for the country as a whole. The Conference Board of Canada estimates that not filling the 89,000 IT positions needed in the next three to five years will cost the country $10.6 billion.

So what’s a CIO to do in the face of these hiring woes? A good place to start is by making sure you hang onto as many good employees as you can. That means competitive salaries and benefits packages, mentoring programs, ongoing training and advancement opportunities, flexible scheduling and just plain making sure that the workplace is as stimulating and satisfying as it can be.

The growing pool of retired IT workers is another place to find skilled employees. The fact that they’ve left the workforce doesn’t mean they can’t be lured back by the right offer. The key is to accommodate their needs by offering them contract or part-time work and a schedule that fits their lifestyle.

And what about those ads you see about the qualified Canadian worker having trouble getting a job overseas? Have you given full consideration to foreign applicants? And do you accommodate their special needs once you’ve hired them into your workforce? Finally, build some linkages with the education system and invest time in encouraging today’s kids to consider a career in IT. Maybe some of them will knock on your door one day.

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