Tech brightening job market for Newfoundland

Newfoundland has had some rotten luck in the past when it comes to its economy and employment rates, but IT could change all that.

For the third year in a row Newfoundland and Labrador’s information technology sector has shown a 25 per cent growth rate, according to Operation ONLINE’s IT Employment survey.

Jack Botsford, Operation ONLINE’s president, was surprised at the steady increase in the sector.

“I was expecting to see a plateau in growth after Y2K, so I expected the numbers this year to be a little bit lower, but the growth has remained strong,” he said.

Operation ONLINE is a partnership between the government and the Newfoundland/Labrador IT industry whose mandate is to accelerate growth in the IT industries. “We have a work plan which has a big HR component, a partner component and an awareness and communication aspect,” Botsford said.

He credited the fact that IT is changing the way business is done for the growth in the eastern province.

Newfoundland, Botsford said, is graduating between 1,200 and 1,500 IT professionals every year. “Our industry is still relatively small so it can only absorb about half the graduates, which means the other half tend to be dispersed and lost to us,” he said.

But not lost for long, if Sandra Kelly has anything to say about it.

Kelly, Newfoundland’s minister of industry, trade and technology, said people are coming back to Newfoundland.

“We have a program with Operation ONLINE, called Bring IT Home, where we have a database of Newfoundlanders who are interested in coming back,” Kelly said. “There are a lot of people graduating, but they don’t have a lot of experience. As our companies grow they need more middle-management people.”

Bring IT Home is a Web site and skills database that lists job opportunities.

Botsford said if a position opens the program sends out the listing to expatriate Newfoundlanders, and if they are interested they can apply on-line.

Kelly attributes part of Newfoundland’s growth to its education system.

“We’ve been leading the country in Internet access in all of our schools and our libraries,” she said. “We were one of the first in the country to implement fibre optic cable right through the province. It’s certainly showing us that doing that in the education sector and in the post-secondary sector [pays] off.

“When they have great exposure, many kids look at the IT world. They know the potential is there to get good paying jobs and geography doesn’t mean anything,” she said. “And in Newfoundland geography means a lot, in most instances.”

She added that Newfoundland and Labrador have a strong history of distance education and tele-health technology.

“There’s no doubt that because of our geography – this is a big province with just over half a million people – we saw [distance education and tele-health] as opportunities before anybody else,” she said.

Kelly noted people then focused on gaining education in those two fields, which prepared the labour force and schools to develop other technical skills.

Botsford said one notable IT initiative is a combined effort by Sun Microsystems and a public college, who have set up a not-for-profit centre called Pivotal Networks, which focuses on training people on Java and network computing.

He added Newfoundland is also experiencing start-up growth. “We’re seeing one (new start-up) almost every week. There are Web development companies and software companies. We have an incubator centre here for IT businesses, which combines disciplined business planning and mentoring.

“I think there’s a mood of optimism here right now. The elements for success are greater access to the global market place, being able to better lay their hands on the right HR and a kind of market discipline that is being introduced.”