Wanted: IT pros with people skills


Can you do a PowerPoint presentation that won’t put your audience to sleep? How are your negotiation skills at handling rancour within the team?

These requirements may seem a bit removed from the bits and bytes of the IT profession, but businesses are increasingly looking for these “soft skills” from new hires as well as long-time employees, according to an analyst.

“Firms are finding fewer IT professionals with management and people skills,” said Peter McStravick, senior research analyst for learning services at the consultancy firm IDC in Framingham, Mass.

He said employees able to effectively communicate to executives how technology could enable business strategy, were in demand. “Companies seek translators between business and IT.”

Among the institutions offering technology courses, two Canadian schools have joined together to offer both college and university degree courses that include management and communication skills components.

The McMaster University Faculty of Engineering and Mohawk College School of Engineering have collaborated on a Bachelor of Technology Program (BTP) that offers both technical specialization and management education.

Courses at the institutions’ facilities in Hamilton, Ont. have already begun but admission for the January term will begin on October 22.

Art Heidebrecht, the program’s executive director, said the program could also benefit foreign-trained IT professionals who would want to upgrade or update their skills. “Many skilled IT professionals with significant experience in their countries of origin find it difficult to land positions in their field, because of lack of Canadian experience.”

Heidebrecht said the program’s co-op components could help address the skills gap. BTP offered fundamental skills in problem solving, project management, entrepreneurship, presentation and human resources related subjects, he said.

“These are areas that foreign-trained professionals may be experienced in but may need to apply to Canadian setting,” he said.

Fred Laidman, program chairman, said the program is offered in two iterations:

• A four-year program leading to both a Diploma in Technology from Mohawk and a Bachelor in Technology from McMaster;

• A two-year degree completion program for graduates of Mohawk College or graduates of similar programs or colleges.

“The concept is unique in that it is less theoretical and follows a more hands on community college approach,” said Laidman.

The program is banking on several companies that form its advisory board to provide co-op opportunities for students, but is still welcoming other companies that might want to join the program. Among the companies on the board are steel companies Dofasco Inc. and Stelco Inc. as well as Siemens AG.

McStravick said a recent IDC survey showed many North American companies found competent IT employees hard to find. “About 20 per cent of the firms said IT labour was hard to find .”

He said the survey showed the IT labour market had picked up after the surplus in 2003 and the “forecast looks promising for foreign-trained professionals.”

“Companies, however, are largely unable to address the shortage of “soft skills” among their work force and a turning to technical schools to develop these skills among their graduates,” McStravick said.

“Companies are pressuring schools to turn out graduates with better people and management skills,” he said.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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