Wanted: 89,000 IT employees

At the Information and Communications Technology Council (ICTC) and the Information Technology Association of Canada’s Labour Market Intelligence Day las month, a handful of analysts discussed new research that further reveals the disconnect between IT employers and potential hires.

Employers want more well-rounded employees with soft skills and a flair for marketing the products they work on, and real-world experience. While these university graduates are in short supply, there is also a dearth of IT grads.

The lack of student interest is a definite hurdle to a robust IT market, said David Ticoll, CEO of the Toronto-based technology consulting firm Convergent Strategies and an expert panel chair with the ICTC.

“I’ve heard anecdotal evidence that when guidance counselors hear ‘ICT,’ they just tune out,” he said. A survey of colleges conducted by Michael Robinson of the research firm Michael Robinson Campbell Consulting found that computer science and related IT disciplines were down six per cent over the last few years.

Wendy Cukier, associate dean at Ryerson University’s school of business, reported that there is a disconnect between the number of jobs and grads, with around 9,000 math, computer science, and information systems grads per year to fill the 89,000 new jobs that will crop up over the next three to five years.

Also contributing to the problem is a lack of preparation for the real world, said Andrew Bisson, a director of planning and market analysis with Ottawa-based technology consulting firm the Branham Group. He said IT employers want employees with soft skills, but these employees just aren’t getting them. “It’s a challenge when employers look for that combination of skill sets. We need to build co-op programs and internship programs to better prepare (students) for the workforce,” said Bisson.

Ticoll believes that the way to bolster a lagging IT market would be for Canada to concentrate on nurturing and promoting four positions that Ticoll foresees as key IT jobs in the future. These include business/IT leaders (who boast soft, managerial and marketing skills), industry IT specialists (with vertical expertise), advanced computational technologists (who work on developing technologies like nanotechnology and bioinformatics), and “same time/same place” technicians (who can give hands-on help to users).

John O’Grady, a partner with the Toronto-based consulting firm Prism Economics, added that the fields of wireless technology, IP applications, and security are also big areas for job growth in the future. One area IT professionals should brush up on is customization work, as more and more companies are going with a customized generic solution instead of proprietary software, he said.

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