Training a top job concern

Lack of training, not concern over pay, leads workers to find new jobs; programmers are particularly restless; and men still dominate the industry – these are just some of the findings of a recent survey of Canadian IT professionals.

The survey, released this month, was undertaken by Statistics Canada on behalf of Human Resources Development Canada and the Software Human Resource Council (SHRC). It was conducted in the fall of 2000.

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. Approximately 1,400 questionnaires were gathered.

The results showed career development was a much more important reason for taking a new job than better pay. For instance, in the computer systems design industry, 36 per cent of IT employees said they left their last job for career development reasons compared to only 14 per cent who left for higher remuneration.

Paul Swinwood, the Ottawa-based president of the Software Human Resource Council (SHRC), said the results reinforce a point his organization has stated all along: that proper 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 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 expect to assist in writing an air traffic control system for Transport Canada.

The average age of IT employees working in the three industries varied greatly from each other, and differed from the Canadian labour force as a whole. In the computer systems design and related services industry, nearly 56 per cent of employees were under the age of 35. This varied from Ontario’s insurance carriers, where approximately 36 per cent of employees were under the age of 35, and the architectural, engineering and related services industry, where two-thirds of workers were under the age of 35.

By contrast, 39 per cent of Canada’s total labour force were under the age of 35 in 2001.

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 that 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; only one-third of IT workers had their first job in the field; word-of-mouth recruitment was the most used method for finding an IT position; the IT sector is dominated by males (women accounted for only 13 per cent to 36 per cent of IT employees in the three industries surveyed); and that immigrants made up about a quarter of the IT workforce in the three industries surveyed.

The survey is the second part of a larger study. The first part, an employer survey, was released earlier this year.

A national survey of IT occupations will begin this month 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 nationwide 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.