‘Sizzling’ IT careers market still evokes lukewarm response

Watch video of John Pickett’s presentation

Length: 8.30 minutes. File type: Windows Media Video

Also read related blog post: Responding to a schizophrenic IT careers market

A career in Information Technology (IT) can be very rewarding for those who choose to pursue it, but sadly fewer Canadians today are making that choice.

This “strange dichotomy” afflicting Canada’s IT sector – a hot market, evoking a lukewarm response – was highlighted by John Pickett, IT World Canada’s vice-president and editorial director, at an event in Toronto yesterday.

Organized by Cisco Canada, the event marked the 10th Anniversary of the Cisco Networking Academy – an e-learning program launched globally to equip students with Internet technology skills required in a rapidly changing job market.

Among other things, Pickett’s presentation focused on a couple of key challenges confronting the Canadian IT sector:

• The growing need for skilled IT professionals

• Factors hindering companies from meeting this need

Pickett cited key findings from IT World Canada’s 2007 IT Salary Survey, which he said, also tracked other factors including job satisfaction, practices that help companies retain IT staff, and the hiring environment.

More than 3,000 respondents from the IT industry responded to the survey, including 1,200 hiring managers.

Pickett noted that 61 per cent of the hiring managers polled are set to hire new IT staff over the coming 12 months, and they forecast a net IT staff increase of 12 per cent.

This finding, he said, fits in well with other surveys that reveal around 48,000 IT positions will need to be filled.

Pickett said companies expect to fill 27 per cent of these jobs internally – through training, transfers from other departments and so on.

“But that still leaves 73 per cent of the positions unfilled, which nets out to around 35,000 new people required in the industry.”

Of that number, he said, hiring managers plan to recruit 19 per cent (or 7,000 – 8,000 people) from colleges and universities, and 14 per cent (around 5,000 – 6,000) from the alumni of tech courses, such as those offered by the Cisco Networking Academy.

But he said the expectation is most of new IT employees (around 67 per cent or 20,000 people) will be hired away from other firms.

This competition between companies for skilled IT workers has already had a definite impact on IT salary trends, Pickett noted.

“Last year, we saw IT salaries go up – across the board – by 4.1 per cent as against the 2 per cent cost-of-living increase. In some areas, such as Alberta, where [the IT industry] is booming, the increase has been around 7.5 per cent.”

In case of specific “high demand” disciplines, he said, the increase was a lot higher than that.

Among the most sought after skills, Applications Development tops the list (61 per cent demand), followed by Business Analysis (43 per cent) and Networking (40 per cent).

Specific technical qualifications in high demand include: SQL Server (41 per cent), Network Technician (40 per cent), Microsoft.Net (36 per cent), and Oracle Database and Apps (28 per cent).

By training students in these skills, Pickett said the Cisco Networking Academy “is addressing an issue that is clearly an important and necessary one.”

Creative retention strategies

How will the combined impact of the IT skills crunch, rising salaries, and the declared intention of many hiring managers to recruit from the competition affect IT employee retention?

In this new environment, Pickett said, companies may need to strive harder to hang on to valued IT staff.

This is particularly true, as a majority of IT employees themselves seem open to being wooed away to better, more lurcative jobs.

Survey findings presented by Pickett indicate that as many as 60 per cent of IT professionals “would be available for a new job if they got the right offer.”

Of those polled, 50 per cent said they are looking for a new job in a different company (42 per cent passively and 8 per cent actively), 7 per cent are seeking a new job in the same company, and 3 per cent in another industry.

At first blush these numbers may seem to be at odds with another finding from the same survey that the typical IT professional – across the industry and country – has been in business 15 years on average (indicating low mobility).

However, Pickett pointed out that a third of the total sample had more than 10 years experience in the industry, “and that includes those with 25 years plus. This tends to sway the average a bit.”

He also highlighted another finding that 7 per cent of the IT employees polled had been in their current job for less than a year.

“We reckon that there are around 450,000 IT professionals in Canada. So around 30,000 have changed jobs, or joined their current job in the past 12 months. That’s actually quite a lot of movement.”

Show me the money…and more

It seems their main motivation for seeking a job change is the desire for greener pastures, rather than dissatisfaction with or insecurity in their current patch.

Pickett noted that the overwhelming majority of the respondents (90 per cent) said they are secure in their current jobs – either “very secure” (17 per cent), secure (41 per cent), or somewhat secure (32 per cent). Only 10 per aren’t secure.

While 59 per cent of IT professionals are satisfied with their current job, satisfaction levels vary from sector to sector.

“Satisfaction is highest in Energy/Utilities and Banking – probably because salaries [in those industries] are going up so fast,” said Pickett.

But he said over and above money – which is a key factor for execs and senior management – “the things that make people happy in their job is knowing they are valued, that their opinions matter, and the quality of the supervision they get.”

One of the more disconcerting findings, Pickett said, have to do with dwindling numbers joining the IT workforce.

For instance, he said between the years 1991-1996 around 100,000 people joined the IT workforce, and approximately the same number joined in the period 1996–2001.

“In the following five years (2001–2006), however, we’ve seen that dwindle to around 35,000 people. So far, fewer people have been joining the IT workforce. This is one issue we need to address.”

Over the next several years, he said, many professionals from the baby boomer generation will be retiring, and there aren’t nearly as many workers available locally to replace them. “It’s a problem that’s not specific to IT, but IT is not immune to it.”

To make up for that loss in the workforce, he said there’s a need to improve productivity, and one of the ways industries can do this is through the effective use of information technology.

“So I would propose – notwithstanding my bias – that a shortage of IT skills is perhaps more profound in the context of its effect on the Canadian economy than any other discipline.”

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