Big bucks and relaxed hours for boomers, more focused public- and private-sector training programs, and lots of skilled immigrants are all required to combat Canada’s long-term shortage of skilled IT workers, according to a recent report.

Although the pool of available IT workers has deepened due to recent layoffs, this temporary skills windfall will be outpaced by the coming mass retirement of graying staff, and ever-increasing demand for technical skills, said Derek Burleton, a senior economist with TD Financial Group and co-author of the report.

“Ordinarily we wouldn’t expect to see these labour shortages remain over 10-20 years because you do get market adjustments taking place – wages rise, individuals change their behaviour by going to school and seeking out the higher wages – but we’re saying that’s not enough. We’re going to need some additional actions undertaken,” Burleton said.

Many of the actions recommended in the TD report are already taking place, notably a “fast track” immigration process that in-demand workers can get into Canada in as little as 48 hours, said Paul Swinwood, president of the Ottawa-based Software Human Resources Council (SHRC).

Although he is mindful about the appearance of special treatment, Swinwood said government policies need to be altered so the coming generation of young pensioners – from IT workers to plumbers – have an incentive to remain active in consulting and contract roles.

“A lot of the technical people that I’ve talked to who are looking at retirement are looking at retiring to part-time work, so one of the challenges we’ve got is putting into place a [tax] system that doesn’t penalize them for doing that. This is going to be [a concern] right across the whole employment spectrum,” Swinwood said.

Although most members of NewHeights Software Corp.’s Victoria, B.C. workforce are just starting their RRSPs, Kimberly Krenzler, the company’s director of operations, plans to be very receptive to any arrangements that keep the firm’s more seasoned staff members in play longer.

“We’ll be more than willing to make deals in that regard, she said. “To me, the experience and knowledge that [retirement-age workers] bring to the industry is incredible, and when you have a very young workforce it’s necessary to have that offsetting experience behind you – a voice of reason, so to speak.” – Scott Gardner

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