When a dream job is any job

Looking for a job? Good, ‘cuz boy have I got one for you. The pay’s great, the hours flexible and the training ample.

There’s only one catch: you must be a Cisco-certified, MCSE with at least five years experience working with Windows NT, three years of SQL, at least three years of programming experience including hands-on use of Visual Basic, C++ and HTML, proficiency with Unix and a firewall expert.

If this mix of skills sounds like a tall order, how about the position another reader sent us that requires 10 years of experience in Visual Basic. “Any programmer worth their salt would see this as a farce,” he rightly pointed out, “since VB 1.0 itself is only 10 years old.”

Being repeatedly nixed for jobs because of a failure to meet near-impossible skill set demands is a frustrating and, apparently, common experience these days. It’s left a lot of talented IT professionals scratching their heads. What makes it even tougher to take are the signals being sent by employers.

Figures recently released by the Information Technology Association of Canada (Ontario) concluded that nearly 10,000 IT jobs in Ontario alone could go unfilled due to a lack of available talent. ITAC chief Gaylen Duncan said any downturn in IT job demand due to the shaky economy is over. “[It] looks like we’ve had a very short respite,” he said, “the skills shortage will be back with us very soon.”

I have no doubt that ITAC’s members are struggling to fill some IT positions. After all, a lot of time and resources are sunk into efforts to combat a problem most of us now view as a given. That said, the notion that there aren’t enough talented people in Canada to fill our IT needs never sat well with me – not five years ago, and not now.

I’m not so far removed from the post-university job search days myself to know that if that many jobs are going unfilled, then there’s likely a much bigger problem: namely, a lack of vision among Canadian employers and recruiters. That suspicion was recently driven home to me after being inundated with letters generated by our story on ITAC’s study – by far the most response we’ve ever had. All of them expressed utter disbelief at the findings. They complained about tech-ignorant HR departments and recruiters who demand ridiculous amounts of experience for little more than entry-level jobs. Virtually all point to an unwillingness to train anyone – even IT vets who lack only a skill or two – as another barrier.

Yes, training is easy to talk about, but hard to do. It adds costs and time to the hiring process. No, not all IT training schools are created equal. And yes, some IT job-seekers could do themselves a big favour by brushing up on their “soft” skills (and their writing skills, as evidenced by some of the letters). But we can’t paint all unemployed IT people with the same brush, which amounts to blaming the victims. It’s also worth noting that candidates considered unemployable in Vancouver or Ottawa seem to have little problem finding jobs in North Carolina or California.

If ITAC’s 1,300 members are genuinely worried about the “chronic and critical” skills shortage problem, then surely they must be willing to do what it takes to help make it go away. And make no mistake, they can. Only those not well versed in IT could assume that technologies are non-transferable. “If you are a VB programmer, is VBA difficult? If you have learned HTML, is XML a steep learning curve?” asks one exasperated reader.

No, it’s not. Let’s hope Corporate Canada comes to the same conclusion, and soon.