Wanted: IT professionals

IT hiring and tech research appears to be on the upswing. In June, the Waterloo (Ontario) Region’s tech industry launched an initiative to recruit more than 800 IT professionals to the area. Also in June, SAP AG announced plans to expand its Montreal-based research and development (R&D) facility. And to complete the trifecta, Sun Microsystems Inc. recently opened a health care IT research centre in Ottawa.

Are these three events perhaps harbingers of an IT hiring renaissance in Canada? Or just random coincidences that will only register as a positive but ultimately untenable blip on the Canadian tech worker’s radar?

There’s no doubt some companies and locations are on a serious hiring spree. The aggressive recruiting initiative in the Waterloo Region (including the cities of Kitchener, Cambridge and Waterloo) is headed by Communitech, the tri-city area’s technology association. Along with the Region, local schools Wilfrid Laurier University and the University of Waterloo — both known for their computer science curricula — and more than 50 of the area’s tech firms (including Open Text Corp., Research in Motion Ltd., McAfee Inc. and SlipStream Data Inc.) have joined in the venture. The campaign consists of an employment portal (www.waterlootechjobs.com) and technology events designed to lure IT workers to the area.

Right now, said Iain Klugman, president and CEO of Communitech, the area requires skilled IT professionals with at least five to 10 years of working experience. Overall, the IT sector is turning the corner, Klugman said, adding that both established firms and startups require skilled professionals to sustain themselves. The program targets Canadian IT workers and also ex-pats lured away by U.S. firms who may now wish to return to Canada, Klugman said. Most recently the group held a recruiting event in Silicon Valley in San Jose.

Most don’t realize the opportunities within the Region, and the close proximity to Toronto can be appealing to some, Klugman said, adding that the current growth areas include software, hardware, wireless, and digital imaging.

“The taps have been turned back on from a capital perspective,” Klugman said. “It’s great to be back in a position where we’re experiencing this accelerated growth.” According to Klugman, Communitech will closely monitor the number of IT hires as a result of the Web site’s outreach program.

Recently, SAP Labs Canada, a division of SAP Canada Inc., laid out plans to hire 100 new software developers at its Montreal-based R&D centre. According to the ERP software vendor, the new SAP Labs Canada hires will work with mySAP Business Suite and SAP NetWeaver to design and develop industry-specific business software products and applications.

The R&D centre is an integral part of SAP’s global development network, the company said. SAP Labs Canada’s workforce will now stand at approximately 200 employees. “Montreal’s geographic and cultural position, midway between Silicon Valley and Europe, offers advantageous operating conditions for completing the development of many innovative products in a stable and secure environment,” Peter J. Kirschbauer, general manager, applications, SAP, said in a statement.

Much like the SAP announcement, the joint investment between Sun and IT solutions provider Dinmar to create an Ottawa-based health care IT research centre — iForce Solutions Centre for Healthcare IT — is another sign that IT research is on the rise in Canada. Charles Mair, executive director, global healthcare at Sun, said there is a growing trend for IT research within the e-health segment of the market. According to Mair, Canada was the ideal location for Sun’s first global centre dedicated to health care technology. Canadian governments are currently looking at standardizing electronic health records nationwide and IT obviously will play a big part in that, Mair added.

The facility is designed to promote open-standards-based technology and it aims to improve interoperability between health care IT systems, Mair said. It’s driven by a health care sector-wide goal to improve efficiencies within the health care-specific IT industry, he said. Using Sun and Dinmar technology, including Solaris 10 OS and Sun Ray thin client computers, the facility will replicate real-world health care environments, enabling users to tackle integration issues in a controlled environment.

IT for health care, IT for ERP, IT for Waterloo: it’s all good news for tech pros on the hunt for employment. But what’s behind this hiring rise? And is it sustainable?

According to Sathish Bala, an IT recruiter based in Markham, Ont., even compared to just a few months ago there are a lot more opportunities now for IT workers. One possible reason for this, said Bala, president and CEO of New Age Consulting Inc., is that companies are burning their budgets on outstanding technology projects with year-end around the corner. “Companies are getting more focused on cost control through technology innovations so they are hiring contractors and perm staff to help execute,” Bala said. Overall, the outlook is strong for 2005 and should spill over to 2006, he added.

Robert Fabian, an IT consultant based in Toronto, acknowledges that there is increased activity in the IT sector but added that that he doesn’t foresee entry level employment trends radically changing anytime soon. “My interpretation is that IT is again being seen as an opportunity area. Business can see advantages from increased IT investments.

“That’s new and a welcomed change,” Fabian said. But factors including automation, off-the-shelf packages, and outsourcing will keep a lid on the need for large numbers of junior people in IT, Fabian said. “The hiring I see is mostly at the middle to senior levels. That’s where the business advantage is obtained.”

So while it’s a tad premature to ascertain if the current spate of hiring represents a blip or something more substantial, it is a fair outlook for the more experienced tech pro and, for the proactive, an appealing window of opportunity. Perhaps now’s the time to update the CV and survey the landscape for new work.

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