IT hiring forecast from CompTIA: ‘Technology gets ahead of the labour force’

Canadian execs are still worried about finding skilled and experienced IT staff to fill their ranks.

According to a recently released CompTIA International Technology Adoption & Workforce Trends Study, IT certifications are a key part of the solution, with 57 per cent of business anticipating them to grow in importance as part of the hiring process over the next two years. The report advises that applicants should be taking note of this emphasis on certifications, particularly in the areas of cloud computing, security and networking.

The lament that there is not enough skilled workers to meet the IT needs of Canadian enterprises – or smaller organizations, for that matter – is not new. And neither is the use of certifications to weed through a pile of candidates.

As noted in the report, technology has never been so accessible to so many, but CompTIA’s research found that only 15 per cent of businesses report being exactly where they want to be with technology utilization, while 41 per cent say they are very close.

Tim Herbert, VP research and market intelligence at CompTIA, said the function of innovation within organizations has accelerated and workers are in position of having to catch up. “Technology gets ahead of the labour force.”

More than 679,000 IT workers are employed by businesses across Canada, according to CompTIA, and the Canadian IT jobs market grew by 1.6 per cent in 2013 and 6.4 per cent since 2011.

Emerging cloud technologies, mobility and big data have created new skill sets, Herbert said. The other challenge is geography. There may be qualified workers in one city but the bulk of the demand for their talents might be in another.

It’s also no longer a buyer’s market, so to speak, if Canada’s neighbor to the south is any indication. Now that the U.S. economy is recovering from a serious recession, said Herbert, there are more opportunities for employees, which gives them more control over where they would like to work. It’s not so much a skill shortage, but a mismatch between employer and job seeker.

But there is another sea change that’s happened with regard to IT skills: Technology has become more pervasive in the past five or 10 years, said Herbert. “There is so much technology across the business.” This places more demand on all employees to have technology skills, but on the flip side, IT workers are expected to have more soft skills – they’re no longer spending all of their time in a data center tinkering with servers. “We are asking them to interface with the customer.”

And there also jobs that aren’t IT jobs in the strictest sense but require technological know-how such as technical writers and project managers.

There is more emphasis on the soft skills, including a better understanding of an enterprise’s overall business, especially given the innovation around data and how businesses are using it for competitive advantage. According to CompTIA research, jobs for database analysts and administrators had the highest growth rates from 2013 to 2014, jumping approximately 11 per cent.

But enterprises may be their own worst enemies when advertising job positions and screening candidates by expecting them to meet every single one of a long list of criteria. “A lot of employers are under pressure to find the perfect candidate,” said Herbert. “No one wants to make the mistake of bringing on the wrong candidate.”

Often a potential employee has most of the skills required but can be screened out because they are missing a small percentage of attributes desired. Herbert said that if companies using an automated HR hiring system entered their own employees it would screen 90 per cent of them out. “There are only so many candidates that will hit a very high bar if you are trying to meet all of the requirements.”

Certifications can be a great way to quickly assess whether a candidate should be considered, but a portfolio of work also be taken into account, and applicants should showcase it.

Organizations should also be prepared to “train up” employees – either by providing technical staff with soft skills training or providing less tech-savvy staff with more technical knowledge, Herbert said, and IT should align with business priorities to snag training dollars – security, for example, is the No. 1 priority for enterprises. “Security is a good way to make the case to the C-suite to invest in training.”

He said some employers are concerned about investing in training only to have employees jump ship. “But if you don’t offer any training or development, employees don’t feel valued. There is a risk either way.”

Organizations should assume their competitors are investing in workplace training and they could fall behind, he added. “The demand for technology skills is only going to continue to grow.”

The Canadian IT sector reached nearly $100 billion in revenue in 2013, with hardware, software and IT services accounting for slightly more than half of the market, with telecom services accounting for the remainder.

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Gary Hilson
Gary Hilson
Gary Hilson is a Toronto-based freelance writer who has written thousands of words for print and pixel in publications across North America. His areas of interest and expertise include software, enterprise and networking technology, memory systems, green energy, sustainable transportation, and research and education. His articles have been published by EE Times, SolarEnergy.Net, Network Computing, InformationWeek, Computing Canada, Computer Dealer News, Toronto Business Times and the Ottawa Citizen, among others.

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