Statistics Canada recently reported that roughly 600,000 Canadians were employed in the information and communications technology (ICT) sector in 2001. Together, these workers represented 6.2 per cent of all Canadian production and four per cent of all Canadian employment. Average annual growth has been 14.9 per cent, compared to 3.8 per cent for the overall economy (1997 to 2001).
The long term trends are all positive. But that’s little consolation for the recent graduate who can’t find his next job. Nor does it help the seasoned professional who can’t find a position, notwithstanding her solid 25-year track record. Long term, positive trends are cold comfort when faced with short term, negative reality.
Several things seem to be affecting ICT employment. Obviously, the economy isn’t in great shape. Then there are ICT-specific challenges – many businesses felt like they were being taken to the cleaners by their Y2K contract specialists, and many were. They remember that, and as such they are not inclined to be charitable.
The dot-com extravaganza allowed marginal people with equally marginal ideas to command extraordinary prices, and we gloriously overpaid for them and their companies. Unfortunately, most of them worked in the ICT sector. The bubble has since burst, but many of the opulent expectations they created continue to haunt the economy and the people.
If that weren’t enough, Canadian businesses have also discovered the attraction of ICT outsourcing. The vendor takes over ICT problems that were never really understood, and for them it’s a great relief. The vendor knows how to apply best practices. Project failure will be a thing of the past. And expensive ICT assets change hands, doing nice things to this year’s bottom line.
The outsourcing trend is bringing massive change. The pundits are talking about 25 per cent to 50 per cent of all current ICT employees being outsourced within the next two or three years. Some of that will be a “simple” transfer of employment from a regular company to an outsourcing vendor. However, some of that will also lead to the export of jobs to lower-cost labour markets.
It seems clear that the wonderful employment opportunities we enjoyed in the late 1990s are gone, and are unlikely to return, at least not anytime soon. It will get better, but ICT professionals who want continued employment will have to adjust to a strikingly different reality.
Jobs no longer come searching for people. Posting your resum