IT jobs coalition to lobby for immigration changes

TORONTO – Every IT manager position that goes unfilled costs the Canadian economy more than $160,000 a year, according to a report released Monday which Bell and other firms will use to lobby for changes to foreign immigration policies.

The report, published by the Conference Board of Canada, calculated the economic impact of skill shortages in 15 technology-related positions, using wages, profits per employee and other indirect effects. The latter is based on how IT professionals spend their money, such as money that gets pumped back into the economy, taxes and savings that affect interest rates.

The monetary fallout of most vacant IT jobs hovered around the $100,000 mark, including software engineers at more than $150,000 and network operations staff at $106,000.

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Bell is using the study to spearhead a coalition it formed last month with about two dozen companies such as TD Meloche Monnex and CN Rail, which is tackling the problem of chronic unemployment in the IT profession. Dubbed the Canadian Coalition for IT Succession, the partners said they have already distributed the report to immigration officials at both the federal and provincial level.

“I think they were a bit surprised by the magnitude (of the problem),” said Stephane Boisvert, vice-president of Bell Canada’s Enterprise Group, who discussed early government reactions to the report at a press conference. “You have to tell them what your need is, and I think they will be more than willing to do what is necessary.”

When the coalition launched in Montreal the emphasis was on working with universities and schools to change perceptions of IT as a profession and develop better curricula, but Boisvert said immigration policy was key to filling the new jobs and jobs which will become vacant from retiring baby boomers in a few years. The coalition has yet to outline specific changes to immigration policy, Boisvert said. The first step is to get across how bad they think the problem is through the report.

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Members of the coalition will be meeting over the next few weeks to determine more specific steps.

Bell is also at work on its own program, called First Jobs, which will attempt to fast-track immigrants with suitable qualifications or education gained abroad into jobs here, Boisvert said.

“We do some offshoring in India, and we occasionally bring IT managers in for training purposes. Most of the time these folks would like to stay here,” he said. “I think you have to design your own program to be a beacon to the government.”

Michael Bloom, the Conference Board’s executive director of strategic projects, said many companies find workarounds to their employment issues through federal temporary worker programs and provincial “nominee” programs. He also cited data that said by 2011 net population growth will be driven by immigrants.

Bloom admitted that some of the Conference Board’s report merely builds on data gathered by the Information and Communications Technology Council (ICTC), whose president Paul Swinwood immediately endorsed the coalition’s efforts.

“We are seeing for the first time the industry standing up and saying ‘This is something that needs some attention,’” he said.

Bloom said IT jobs usually pay about 45 per cent more than other jobs in Canada, and the way to get more students interested in computer science is to look at the fields that are getting more attention. Requests for enrolment in environmental science programs is up, for example, which may be an opportunity to develop a green IT stream.

“There’s a certain amount of popularity to some programs,” he said. “We need to cross-connect those areas (to IT).”

Besides attracting new talent into the IT profession, the coalition will create efforts to bring back those who may have been displaced from technology-related jobs during the dot-com crash, the report said.

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