For many years IT was the Bhutan of the business world. Shut off from outside contact, it existed in a vacuum inside the greater business entity. More or less immune to the economic downturns and downsizes and bolstered by the occasional boom, IT grew with nary a worry. Workers had little experience with unemployment and salaries, for the most part, reflected the dearth of the talent needed to move forward.
In the 1990s, Y2K became a rallying cry leading thousands and thousands more into this growing profession. Then reality struck. By the summer of 2000, Y2K was officially vanquished and tens of thousands of contract workers were let go. For those without a job there were few worries of finding employment because the dot-com economy was still on the rise. Then, in a blink of an eye, the bubble burst and a severe economic downturn hit IT head-on, leaving PR departments scrambling to think up new, less offensive words for layoff.
IT has yet to fully recover. What was once a sacred cow has now been made leaner and meaner as it defends itself against corporate cutbacks. IT is finally being required to justify the billions spent and actually believe in the concept of ROI. Thousands of workers are currently jobless, with little immediate prospects for finding work as available skills are not tightly aligned with the new millennium’s IT demands. With explosive growth and little foresight, IT has found itself dealing with what is quite possibly a unique economic paradigm.
Historically there is either a surplus of workers or a surplus of jobs. Sometimes, when the stars are just so, it all balances out. Today global IT seems to have both, in part due to the industry’s inability to act as a cohesive unit. Driven by the desire to be first to market, companies did little to develop a sustainable workforce properly trained in the latest technology. Instead, piracy was the norm.
Years ago the forest industry realized cutting down trees without replanting them was business suicide. IT, on the other hand, seems to prefer to pilfer and pillage from competitors, thus offering a company the dual benefit of filling an empty spot while weakening the competition.
“Rather than having a knee jerk reaction to an immediate need we need to start looking forward, to start planning forward and acting now,” said Julie Kaufman, research manager of skills development with IDC Canada in Toronto.
Today the economy is rebounding yet companies still can not find employees to fill many positions. For this, IT has no one to blame but itself.
By its very nature IT is probably destined to always have some skills shortages since technology changes quickly, new skills are always needed and employee churn is typically higher than other sectors of the economy. But it needn’t be as bad as it is today.
Companies can do much more to educate, encourage and protect their biggest asset: the employee.
“One of the factors that will lead many to leave a job is the fear that they feel they are losing current (and future) skills,” said Gaylen Duncan, the Mississauga, Ont.-based president of Information Technology Association of Canada (ITAC).
Bell Canada says it’s taking the bull by the horns. “As a company one of the things that we promise our employees is career mobility and opportunities to grow professionally within the company,” said Maureen Bell, a consultant with the HR department of Bell Canada in Montreal. The company tells employees, “that we will give them opportunities and we will support their efforts to remain employable,” she added. Though Bell Canada obviously hopes employees stay with the company, Bell said “while they are with us we will give them the opportunity to gain experience, gain knowledge and train.”
There is a consensus amongst those interviewed that companies have to rethink the plug and play mentality and start realizing the best fit for a position may need some training.
“If you want to lower the cost of recruiting…then you have got to do more training and development,” Duncan said.
The flip side is to hope you can find the perfect fit. “Canadian companies that are looking to hire an IT professional don’t want to have to wait six or eight months to ramp them up with the skills that they need,” Kaufman said.
Geoff Webb, who works with the recruiting and resourcing team at xwave in Toronto, agrees with Kaufman, though he admits never having to train represents an ideal situation. “We would like them to walk in the door and plug and play but we know that we [can’t] always find somebody who can do that,” he said. In some cases xwave will have an employee shadow a project to learn skills for future endeavours.
Regardless how much a company supports its employee’s professional development, IT employees need to realize it is their career and ultimately their responsibility. Since anyone can be without a job tomorrow, it is time employees, especially those in the unpredictable world of IT, become masters of their own destiny.
“You the individual are responsible for your own career path and if you don’t do anything about it, and you end up unemployed, the mistake is not the employer’s,” Duncan said.
Can you handle the truth?
A recent survey by IDC Canada and ITAC Ontario sparked much debate with its announcement that there will be 38,000 new IT jobs in Ontario in 2002. Though the numbers look promising, it is not as rosy as it appears. Traditionally, 60 to 80 per cent of jobs are filled without ever seeing the proverbial light of day since they are filled internally or through networking.
Today’s IT workers are often out of work for months when the previous norm was weeks. “I send out for maybe 10 different positions a week that I am qualified for,” said Randy Czerwinskyj, a Hamilton, Ont.-based network administrator and computer consultant. In the last four months he has had just two interviews.
“Back in the ’90s I’d usually have two or three interviews a week and I’d have something in a couple of weeks,” he added.
Everyone agrees the times are tough, but adding insult to injury are the Internet job boards. It is here the unemployed are often given false hope.
Today, jobs that have gone unfilled internally or through word of mouth are posted on huge job boards, some claiming to have millions of positions available.
“There were jobs that I was such a spot on match, I figured at least I would get an interview,” said Ajitpal Dipak, a software developer based in Richmond Hill, Ont. “I have exactly what (they) were looking for or more.”
But when prospective employees see the perfect job there is little actual hope in landing the job, according to Nick Corcodilos the Lebanon, N.J.-based host of asktheheadhunter.com. “The bottom line is that most of what is posted is either garbage, redundant or out of date.” He said fewer than two per cent of jobs are filled through job boards.
Somehow IT workers have been lulled into believing that applying for hundreds of jobs online will increase our chances of landing that dream job. “For the job hunter, the notion of using a r