IT hiring boom expected this fall


Many industry observers say demand for IT workers will likely outstrip supply in the near future.

A recent survey conducted in Canada by Robert Half Technology, an IT recruitment firm, provides evidence that an uptick in IT hiring will materialize in the third quarter of 2006.

About 270 CIOs of Canadian companies in various industry sectors with more than 100 employees were polled about their hiring plans for the next quarter.

Overall, 15 per cent of executives polled plan to add IT staff in the next three months, while three per cent anticipate cutbacks.

Prospects were even more upbeat in certain sectors such as professional services, where 25 per cent of CIOs expected to add IT staff.

Sandra Lavoy, a vice-president at Robert Half’s Ottawa office, says the tight reins on IT budgets imposed in the recent recession are being loosened. “For years, many of our clients have made few enhancements to their systems,” she says. “Now that the market is turning, people are more confident and are making upgrades.”

She warns the supply of workers to meet demand is already dwindling. “Many of our clients think the market is flooded and there are lots of IT professionals available for new positions,” says Lavoy. “But we’re very short on good candidates. It’s a big issue for us.”

A case in point is “Windows administration”, which the survey revealed is the hottest skill set within IT departments. Lavoy explains that many companies cut back on help desk support in recent years, but are now in need of staff to roll-out and support desktop upgrades. “Many of these people moved on to other jobs or regions, and we’re seeing a significant decrease in the number of kids going into this area in college.”

She also warns that companies should have a comprehensive retention program in place to prevent poaching of their people. “A lot our clients think their employees are happy, but many of their people leave due to lack of recognition, work-life balance and other such issues,” she says.

Mauro Lollo, CIO of Unis Lumin, a systems integrator based in Oakville, Ont., plans to add new staff and says he’s seeing an increase in client projects. As a consultancy, growth in Unis Lumin’s business is a good indicator for economic growth in other sectors.

“Companies don’t add infrastructure when they’re broke,” he says. “But I also like to think people are getting smarter with their technology and trying to get more value out of what they’re buying.”

While Unis Lumin isn’t involved in desktop support for its clients, Lollo agrees finding Windows support staff is an issue. “Many of our clients are in that boat – they’re having difficulties managing a sea of desktops. Some have increased the number of desktops but haven’t increased their operations staff. The people they have, their hair’s grown grayer and they’re a bit more crazy.”

In terms of his own staffing needs, Lollo says he’s finding people with the right technology skills, but is not resting on his laurels. “I still have to vie with other companies for good people. But thankfully, it’s not like it was during the mid-nineties, with people coming out of school demanding ridiculous sums of money.”

Great West Life (GWL), an insurance company based in Winnipeg, is also in growth mode and is looking to hire more IT staff. The company made some acquisitions in Ireland recently, and is in need of project managers, systems analysts, architects and integrators, says Jim Robson, senior vice-president of information services at GWL. “We’ve seen growth in the use of technology and Web-based applications, and automation of manual processes.”

There is no technical skill that is particularly hot from GWL’s perspective, says Robson. “No, it’s the opposite,” he says. “We’re looking for people who can work in many technologies and have good, solid generic skills in project management, service-oriented architecture and the like. Other insurers will probably agree those are the skill sets we need in the industry.”

Retention is not an issue, he says, largely because GWL pays constant attention to it. The company has a skills and career development model in place to ensure their staff have a clear path for promotions and a process for related work assignments and training.

“If people feel they’re still developing and given challenges, that seems to be what most IT people are really looking for. But it’s something I would say all companies have to be constantly vigilant about to ensure their people are motivated,” says Robson.

Peter Lamb, director of information services at Torys LLP, a Toronto-based law firm, says there are no plans to hire new IT staff. Unlike other sectors, legal services tend to be somewhat insulated from the booms and busts of the rest of the economy.

“When the economy is good, we advise people, and when the economy is bad, we do the same,” he says. “We’re not hit by huge swings like other sectors.”

As a consequence, IT budgets have not been constrained in recent years, although the firm is generally cost-conscious, he says. The firm has been steadily acquiring and implementing technology as business needs arise. “We’ve been spending quite well on equipment, projects and so on,” says Lamb.

But finding the right talent is nevertheless an issue, he says. “Just because we’re not expanding doesn’t mean we don’t have attrition.” The firm is looking for security people to harden servers, firewalls and anti-virus applications.

Retention is always an issue, says Lamb. “I don’t think we have more trouble with retention than other sectors, but what I’ve learned in my 25 years is that it has to do with the size of the firm.” Torys is a mid-sized firm with about 1,000 employees, so opportunities for advancement are limited.

“I’ve got a help desk full of people who want to become network analysts, but only two positions for that so I know eventually some will leave,” he says. “I just don’t have all kinds of positions to move people up into.”

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