Wanted: Business-savvy techies

On Tuesday the Ottawa-based Software Human Resource Council, an industry group that works to address employment issues for IT workers, will host the second-national Information Technology Human Resources Forum, where attendees will hear speakers and attend workshops designed to address human resources concerns in Canada’s IT industry. Ninety-five per cent of Canadian and U.S. tech companies surveyed in a recent Deloitte study said they will increase their headcount in the next 12 months and that they are more confident about the future prospects of their companies than they were in previous years. Such events and studies give us clues as to what is going on in the IT hiring space. But what does the job market look like from the perspective of someone who is out there on the ground, trying to fill positions for companies looking for help with IT projects? What are the most important skills enterprises require of IT workers these days? ComputerWorld Canada department editor Patricia Pickett discussed all of this and more with Sathish Bala, president and CEO of Toronto-based New Age Consulting, a company that, depending on its client’s needs, will either take on the client’s IT project or recruit people into positions that need to be filled before a project can be completed.

As both a management consulting and recruitment firm, what are some of the IT hiring trends you see in companies today, and how do they compare with a few years ago?

Today’s enterprises are not looking at IT as a tool by itself. The big trend we’re seeing more and more is that business people are starting to get more involved in IT decisions. A lot of the questions we used to get would be very tech-heavy. (For example) a lot of IT managers would be calling us about a particular technology or tool. But now, they call us and say ‘I have a business issue – can you find someone to fix it?’ I find companies are not looking to hire the greatest techie people, but those who can relate to these new business owners on a new level.

Deloitte recently came out with a study that said 95 per cent of technology companies in the U.S. and Canada will be looking to hire in the next year. Do you agree with this prediction, and if so, how do you think this trend will unfold?

These expansion plans are news to me. But I would say that on the personnel side, technology companies have a new choice that none of us have really looked at seriously until the last few years – that’s outsourcing. I think that’s what they’ll be doing as far as hiring. There will still be a percentage (of hiring) that comes from the local market, but for a competitive edge, technology companies will look to India and China to see what the labour force is out there.

Canadian technology firms have to outsource to stay competitive. You already have Polaris Software Labs, an outsourcing company (from Chennai, India) that has an office on Bay Street (in Toronto). Tata Consultancy Services (based in Mumbai, India) is already here. They’re coming in with big money. Canadian tech companies have to look at that as a strategic threat and come up with a game plan.

Also with hiring, there is a significant labour force looking to come into [Canada]. We might as well figure out how to embrace that or else we will get stepped on. When it comes to hiring, we will see good growth in the local market, but we will see hiring from other countries where we can get different skills. For more face-to-face roles, tech companies will hire locally, but for the repetitive stuff, that can be given to a labour force that can be brought in.

What quality is most sought-after by technology companies in job candidates?

In today’s competitive world, the type of people sought after are the ones with a real business focus from the technological perspective. [They] don’t care if you know how to code or not. [They are] looking for the true hybrid version of [an] individual that has business experience in a specific vertical, who can converse with clients and lead to connections, lead to that technical conversation that will happen later. As a tech company I can send the tech people in later to close the deal, but the door-openers are very different. Unfortunately that hybrid group of people is very hard to find. They’re usually the ones who are entrepreneurs. That’s their personality – they are a breed of people that have ventured out on their own because traditionally they did not fit anywhere else.

What about enterprises looking for IT people? What is their biggest request?

The biggest request that we continue to hear is for (vertical) industry knowledge. People are looking for IT employees who can connect to the business side of the organization. Tech people in the past were good at saying, ‘Give me a tool and I can take it and do what you want with it.’ But that is not the right attitude anymore.

When someone calls me up with a recruitment request, I first look at who understands that particular vertical. If their experience is in that particular area, that’s a starting point. Second is technology; if they know 50 or 60 per cent of that, they can start with that.

So I would suggest to anyone looking for a job out there that they don’t just focus on building technical skills. Focus on where you can fit in the industry. For example, if you want to work as an IT person in retail, join the Retail Council of Canada. Learn about the business issues, and learn about what technologies can [be applied] to [those]. But just going out there and getting certified in a particular technology is not going to be enough to sustain any industry.

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