Skills shortage gets public attention

OTTAWA – The Government of Canada must be the “employer of choice” if it wants to compete for the narrowing pool of Canadian IT and information management professionals, federal executives said Wednesday.

“For the first time in many years, demand for IT professionals is greater than the supply,” said Nikolas Florakas, directoral general for the Organizational Readiness Office (ORO) of the Treasury Board of Canada.

Florakas chaired a panel that discussed the IT skills crunch and challenges for IT professionals in government, part of the various sessions taking place on the last day of the GTEC 2007 conference in Ottawa.

He said attracting and retaining IT workers has been the top priority for government CIOs and executives in the past year. And the fact that Computer Science enrollment in Canadian colleges and universities continues to decline is not helping matters, either.

One way to attract talent is by being proactive in communicating the benefits and opportunities that an IT career in government can offer, said Robert Charleau, director general of the Management Service Office with Service Canada, who was one of speakers at the panel discussion.

For instance, he said, at Service Canada the union is constantly involved in efforts to improve HR-related processes including recruitment and retention initiatives.

The student internship program is also a good place to start, Charleau said. “Talk about flexible working hours, vacation times (to the students). The federal government is a big company, we do all kinds of things and there are lots of opportunities” that the private sector doesn’t offer.

“Service Canada is spread out across the country and every (career) opportunity that is advertised is open across the country, and many of the positions can be done from where you are,” he said.

Working with educational institutions is also key in encouraging more students to take up Computer Science-related programs, said Florakas.

The ORO, he said, is working with the Information and Communications Technology Council to convince universities to implement changes to their Computer Science curriculum to offer a “less techie stream” of programs to attract the younger population.

Another initiative of the ORO, Florakas said, is a soon-to-be-completed HR Strategic Plan for the IM and IT community in government, which will include “demographics and everything that has to do with where the (IM and IT) community is going.”

The ORO is also engaged in an initiative to streamline IM and IT work descriptions by developing generic work descriptions and competency profiles, effectively reducing over 100 specific work descriptions in various government agencies to only about 37 generic descriptions.

“This helps mobility and career planning for (government IT and IM practitioners),” he said. The competency profile gives the employee a clear understanding of what his role is and more importantly, where he wants his career to be, he added.

The Treasury Board is also developing certification standards for computer systems professionals in government, and the Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada (PIPSC) is lobbying to be included in that discussion, said Luc Carriere, chair of PIPSC’s CS group.

PIPSC represents around 50,000 government professionals, 16,000 of which are in the IM and IT fields.

“We want to be included in the process; it’s affecting us and we’re not really being recognized,” said Carriere.

Carriere stressed the absence of a professional certification specific to government IT professionals can lead to “misclassification” and may prevent career advancement opportunities for CS professionals.

“CS professionals must stay on top as government move towards computer-based service delivery,” he said.

Related content:

GTEC 2007: Government 2.0 targets online collaborative tools

Canadian IT professionals question labour ‘shortage’

Three nuggets for talent gold

ICT sector should retain baby boomers, say experts

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