Erin Ruiz is a tech-savvy 17-year-old from Toronto who spendsmost of her spare time in front of a computer. But when askedwhether she wants to make a career in Information Technology, theanswer is, “Probably not.”
Ruiz is entering grade 12 in the fall and has her eyes set onpursuing a program in international business or linguistics. Sheand her family recently immigrated to Canada from Hong Kong, whereshe says many computer science graduates are having a hard timegetting employment.
“IT is really not my thing. I tried it in high school where wedid programming; I know all the basics but I can’t construct better[programs], so I’m afraid I can’t accomplish it and really wont besuccessful, so I’d rather take up international business andlinguistics,” explains Ruiz.
Universities and ICT industry associations are targetingstudents like Ruiz, trying to sway them into pursuing a computerscience program, as part of a comprehensive drive to spur greaterIT enrolment.
A survey of Canadian universities conducted by the SoftwareHuman Resource Council (SHRC) showed a constantly decreasing trendin computer engineering, computer science and software engineeringenrolment, which is down 11 per cent between 2002 and 2005.
The SHRC is projecting a yearly demand of about 35,000 newworkers in the IT sector in Canada.
In 2003, computer science and computer engineering graduatesfrom Canadian universities was at 3,100, according to the SHRC Website.
“Where are the other 32,000 going to come from?” asks SHRCpresident Paul Swinwood.
He adds that Canadian labour market reports are already showinga two per cent unemployment rate in the IT sector indicating a”very tight labour market.”
Industry experts believe there is a huge misconception amongstudents, parents and career counselors about the prospects of anIT career, which is directly resulting in lower enrolments.
“There is a shortage [of IT skills] because there is aperception problem that happened in (the) post-dot-com and post-Y2K(era), and as a result, parents and counselors are not aware of theviability and vibrancy of the IT industry,” says Stephen Ibaraki,vice-president at the Canadian Information Processing Society.
This view is shared by many industry groups, including theInformation Technology Association of Canada (ITAC), which believesthe ICT industry is being hit by a “double whammy”: the aging babyboomers on one hand and, on the other, the false perception amongstudents that there are no jobs in IT, says Bernard Courtois, ITACpresident and CEO.
And the situation is expected to get worse before it getsbetter, says Courtois. “It takes a number of years for people toget to colleges and universities and go through the [computerscience] programs; it’s a three- or four-year cycle.”
Some IT organizations believe the IT skills shortage is nolonger “looming” over the industry but is already happening, hereand now.
Intuit Canada, developer of accounting software QuickTax andQuickBooks, has decided to take matters into its own hands byactively working with universities and government agencies to “getpeople into the computer science programs.”
Intuit recently commissioned a survey to study computer scienceenrolment trends in various provinces in Canada which, as in otherstudies before it, showed a “great decline.”
In Alberta, for instance, despite a consistently high rate ofeconomic growth, the market for IT-related jobs has beendecreasing, according to the Intuit study. Demand for computerprofessionals in Alberta in 2005 was about 27,938, while the supplyof skilled IT workers was higher, at 28,985.
This is discouraging students from enrolling in computer scienceand engineering programs. At the University of Alberta, only half of the 130available spaces in these programs were filled last year.
“Government and business should work together to helpeducational institutions fill the computer science programs andprovide incentives there,” says Stephen King, Intuit Canadavice-president.
IT outsourcer EDS Canada is similarly taking a more proactiveapproach to the skills shortage issue, according to the firm’srecruitment manager Deanna Spohn.
EDS is directly collaborating with various colleges anduniversities, including the Northern Alberta Institute ofTechnology, University of Manitoba, University of Regina,University of Waterloo and McMaster University in Hamilton,Ont.
By participating in job fairs and talking to the students aboutthe opportunities available at EDS, the company hopes it canattract the specific skills it is looking for.
Part of its hiring strategy is establishing centres of expertisethat group specific skills into geographical locations. InWinnipeg, for instance, EDS seeks out .NET professionals, while inOttawa it’s J2EE and in Toronto and Durham Region the companyrequires z/OS skill sets.
“[We’re doing a] real education and awareness approach ratherthan waiting for universities to say, ‘We’ve got students that areready.’ We want to go out and be there onsite,” says Spohn.
Intuit’s King suggests the skills shortage could also be alleviatedby creating a sound working environment that will increase thechances of retention.
Programs such as career development and fitness programs aresome of the ingredients to keeping an employee satisfied, Kingsays.
SHRC’s Swinwood says solving the IT skills deficit entails theparticipation of all sectors involved: industry, educationalinstitutions and government.