Tech worker shortage just delayed: ITAC

A recent ITAC study predicted that a tech worker shortage was imminent. The results were questioned by the IT community, and now ITAC has agreed that the forecast may have been premature, given the state of the economy.

In the current climate of reduced IT spending, enterprises are looking for IT professionals with a number of years of experience and in a lot of cases some very specific skill sets.

The IT Labour Market study conducted earlier this year by the Information Technology Association of Canada, analyst firm IDC Canada and Aon Consulting found that Ontario companies would need to fill 38,000 IT positions this year, particularly those skilled in XML, Exchange, SQL Server, Oracle databases and Java.

Positions such as IT project managers, IS business analysts/consultants, database administrators and software engineers were also soon projected to be in short supply.

However, the study’s authors admit economic factors could delay the timing of that shortage, according to Lynda Leonard, vice-president of communications and research with ITAC.

“They were saying we will see (job) growth in the space, but depending on economic conditions that growth could take place in the last two quarters of this year or really significant growth may take place in the first two (quarters) of next year,” she said. “I suspect that the latter notion will be the one that will prevail.”

At IBM Canada Ltd., the available IT talent pool has been very deep in the last couple of years. After the economic downturn a number of very skilled IT professionals entered the job market, according to Michael Gauvreau, Toronto-based manager of staffing at IBM Canada.

“While it continues to be a challenge to fill IT jobs, I think our ability to get at IT talent over the last 12 to 18 months has been quite good, but will it stay that way? I don’t believe so because companies are starting to see the upturn in their business,” he said.

Despite the enriched talent pool, some hiring challenges still exist for IBM Canada. Gauvreau said project managers, enterprise architects and consultants with five- to 10-years experience are still difficult to find – observations that are also backed by the ITAC study.

“We at IBM Canada are proactively…from a recruiting standpoint, trying to get access to those skills,” he said.

At CanWest Global Communications Corp. a number of IT positions are in the process of being centralized at the media company’s Winnipeg corporate headquarters, according to Kim Miller, vice-president of human resources. CanWest Global currently employs more than 200 IT workers for administrative functions at its television and print operations, not including Web site personnel employed by

Several administrative applications such as payroll and accounts payable for both the television and print operations are also being set up in Manitoba.

To date, the corporation has been able to find employees who are willing to transfer, as well as qualified IT professionals living in Winnipeg, he said.

“I suspect that we’ll have to hire outside the company and outside of Winnipeg, but I don’t think we’ve done so yet,” Miller stated.

From an IT recruiter’s perspective the volume of positions has decreased in the current market. Requests are often made for skills geared towards specific products such as PeopleSoft and SAP implementation, as well as professionals with 10-years experience with a variety of skills willing to work full time, according to Randy Straeten, vice-president of W5 Resources in Markham, Ont. His experiences are supported by the ITAC study.

“Employers are able to find the non-niche people more easily themselves because the supply far outweighs the demand,” he said.

Straeten said he has also observed a major shift from contract to full-time positions. Over 90 per cent of the positions being offered now are full time, with only 10 per cent being contract jobs, a total reversal from two to three years ago.

Leonard said the shortage could grow beyond the study’s estimates if rumours of enrolment reductions in programs such as engineering and computer science courses are true.

“I guess that’s a normal reaction – if you are building career plans and you see the industry that you once had your sights on is not as robust as it once was, you might elect a different education path,” she said. “But it’s distressing because there will be a correction within the next four-year cycle, so if we see a decline in enrolment it’s only going to exacerbate the problem.”

IBM Canada, through its relationships with Canadian universities and colleges, is working to relay the hiring and skill sets needed at the company, especially in the engineering, computer science, business administration and math programs. Gauvreau said IBM continues to be active with university and college intern and co-op programs across the country.

The study also found earlier thoughts that the IT sector is a really dynamic field where demand for skills is always evolving more rapidly than in any other profession, Leonard said.

During this slowdown, Julie Kaufman, manager of skills development research with IDC Canada, believes enterprises should review their IT plan from both an infrastructure and skills perspective, and begin to bank the skills they will need to move forward. But she admits this doesn’t happen because training budgets are usually the first to be eliminated in an economic downturn.

In order to reduce the shortage, knowledge management systems and e-learning solutions can be made available to IT professionals whether it is part of their career path or not. Some enterprises are making these training opportunities available to employees, allowing them to learn at their own pace in areas that interest them, she stated.

But Kaufman said that additional training of employees will only happen if senior management buy into it.

“We’ve heard for years senior management always saying that people are their most important asset, now they have to start investing in them,” Kaufman said. “They haven’t been putting their money where their mouth is.”

When the IT industry returns to normal, Leonard sees a combination of both self-training on the employees part, as well as training paid for by the employer as the industry norm.