Survey says: training, education needed for IT jobs

A survey of Canadian IT employees in three industries has found that both training and education are needed to secure a job in the IT sector.

The employee survey, released on Wednesday, was undertaken by Statistics Canada on behalf of Human Resources Development Canada and Software Human Resource Council (SHRC). It was conducted in the fall of 2000. This is the second part of the study. The first part, an employer survey, was released earlier this year.

Paul Swinwood, Ottawa-based president of the SHRC, said the pilot survey results reinforced a point his organization has stated all along: that both training and education are needed to become gainfully employed in the IT sector.

“What we are finding is that these people who have taken a six-week Java course are still having difficulty finding employment, because they have nothing with which to add to it,” he said. “So it’s the total package, it’s the total skill that matters, and it’s not just learning a tool.”

Swinwood used the analogy that a person with a skill set in the automotive industry cannot just take a six-week course in C++ and be expected to assist in writing the air traffic control system for Transport Canada – making the point that our knowledge-based economy requires both training and education.

The survey focused on three industries, including insurance companies in Ontario, architecture, engineering and related services in Quebec, and computer systems design and related services across the country. IT workers employed at locations that were previously polled for the employer survey were contacted. Of that sampling, 1,454 employees returned questionnaires that were partially or fully completed.

According to the survey, the demographics for IT employees from the three industries varied greatly from each other, as well as from the labour force as a whole. Across the country in the computer systems design and related services group, approximately 56 per cent of employees were under the age of 35. This varied from the insurance carriers industry in Ontario, where approximately 36 per cent of employees were under the age of 35, while the architectural, engineering and related services industry was similar with approximately 67 per cent of the workers under 35 years old. In the labour force as a whole in 2001, 39 per cent were under the age of 35.

Swinwood said students interested in entering the IT sector need to determine where they want to work in the field, because it will evolve quickly.

“They (students) will need a grounding in the ‘why’ of information technology, not necessarily the ‘what’, specifically the Java and C++, because these change on an 18-month basis,” he said. “But if you don’t have a knowledge of the ‘why’ of how things happen and why things happen, then you won’t be able to pick up the new technology.”

The survey also found: the average tenure for computer programmers in their current positions ranged from 3.5 to 4.5 years, as opposed to an average of just under eight years for the labour force as a whole; one-third of IT employees’ first jobs after completing their education was not in the IT field; word-of-mouth recruitment was the most-used method for finding an IT position; and immigrants make up 20 to 30 per cent of the IT workforce in the three industries surveyed.

Results from the survey also indicate that in the computer system design area, 78 per cent of the IT employees are male, while only 22 per cent are female. In the insurance carriers sector, 64 per cent are male, while 36 per cent are female. In the architectural and engineering area, the results found 87 per cent of employees were male, and 13 per cent were female.

A national survey of IT occupations will begin next week and will sample 35,000 employees at 23,000 companies in six different sectors, that will include both the federal and provincial governments. Results from the nation-wide survey should become available in about a year’s time, Swinwood said.

Visit the SHRC Web site at for the full report on the employee survey.