If anything, the shortage of Canadian IT talent is worse than anticipated.

Last year, the Information Technology Association of Canada (ITAC) released the results of a survey entitled IT Skills Shortage in Canada. The questionnaire, conducted by the Branham Group for ITAC, sampled 34 major players in the Canadian IT industry who account for 20 per cent of IT careers in the country. The survey concluded that 7,848 job positions would become vacant from 1999-2001, suggesting that previous estimates of 20,000 vacancies by 2000 were an understatement.

IT employers noted that they would be in most need of project managers, senior software developers, technical consultants, junior software developers, Web developers and designers, help desk technicians and systems engineers.

In terms of specific skills requirements, these companies were looking for client/server implementation and management capability, database development and administration, and Java and C++ programming skills, and professionals that are fluent in Web languages and Web integration.

“Anything that has got anything remotely to do with electronic commerce or the Internet in general is going to be very hot,” said Bob Crow, vice-president of policy for ITAC. “That ranges right from the business of e-commerce, which is really about business, right through to the technology of e-commerce and anything to do with Internet technology. It’s going to be incredibly hot.”

Crow acknowledges that while the buzz surrounding the Internet is already deafening, the opportunities it presents to IT professionals are only going to increase.

“It’s already huge and it’s going to be that much larger,” he said. “If you look at the skills sets that are going to be required by every kind of company or organization in the economy, as more and more of the country’s and the world’s business transactions go on-line, they are going to need people that understand how things work, and who know how to change the way in which business processes are completed in order to accommodate for the new methods.”

Although the Y2K problem itself is a thing of the past in terms of new IT hires, those who spent the last couple of years de-bugging systems are now being snapped up for work on other projects. “Programmers are still a hot commodity because a lot of other projects were put on hold due to Y2K issues, but now they are moving to the forefront again as a priority,” Bob Curry of KPMG, a global advisory firm, said last September when the firm announced the release of it 1999/2000 KPMG Salary Survey. The survey pointed out that the high technology industry experienced a larger salary increase than any other industry, at 4.6 per cent – up 0.5 per cent from 1998.

Although incoming CIPS president Faye West, ISP, will not pinpoint specifically what, in terms of career positions, employers will require most over the course of the next couple of years, she does advise IT professionals to constantly be on the lookout for opportunities to build upon their skills sets.

“I would be very hesitant to predict any specific career of the future, because the future in IT changes so rapidly,” she said. “As a result of that, however, I think what people in this career need to be doing is preparing themselves for change, always. Staying educated and keeping current, watching the near horizon and determining where things are going to go – that is how they can position themselves (for the things to come.)”

Certain skills, West went on to say, will be applicable to the IT industry forever, while others become outdated very quickly. “What language you use to write your programs – those sorts of things change practically day to day,” she said. “Underlying that, the basics of understanding the systems – systems analysis, systems management, the operational processes of systems – remain the same. I see the same things happening now with networks, and networks of desktop PCs and servers, as what happened with mainframes 20 years ago. They need to be managed, backed up and looked after. The business processes stay the same.”

Understanding the way business works – not just the manner in which technology is applied to it – is becoming increasingly important for IT professionals, their employers and their clients. “The underlying business is what guides the systems development process,” West observed. “So, you have to understand the business regardless of what tools you are going to use to achieve your goal.”

IT isn’t simply about designing technical systems, West noted. “I don’t think that we have been clear that as a profession, IT is a business- and people-oriented function,” she said. “Therefore, the people that are in it tend to be very technical people who went through school taking programs like Computer Science in college or university. There is more to this than just machines. If we made that clear up front, we wouldn’t turn as many people away from the profession. People would get into it, and it would help to solve the skills shortage.”

Crow, too, is enthusiastic about the dynamics in the IT profession. “It’s the most exciting line of work that anybody can be in,” he said. “It’s everywhere, and it’s such fulfilling work. We certainly encourage everybody out there to really take a look at it.”

Heinze ( punchface@sprint.ca) works from her editorial services firm, Punchface Propaganda Machine.