Career development keeps IT workers job-hopping

Career development and mobility are top priorities for Canada’s young IT workforce, according to results of a pilot survey released Wednesday by the Software Human Resource Council.

The SHRC contracted Statistics Canada to poll

3,800 IT employees in the computer systems design, insurance carrier and architectural and engineering services industries, mostly in Quebec and Ontario. The survey of employee expectations and relationships with their employers was a testing tool for hypotheses to be examined on a national scale by a survey the SHRC will conduct this fall, said SHRC president Paul Swinwood.

The survey found that the Canadian IT workforce is quite young, with over 80 per cent of workers aged under 35 as compared to 38 per cent of the Canadian workforce as a whole.

Despite the economic downturn, Swinwood said there is an obvious need for IT employees with the unemployment rate for this sector hovering around four per cent. Employer expectations of the IT worker have changed, however.

“”The companies that seem to be doing well with regards to retaining their employees are the ones who partner with their employees with regards to education and training for the future. Companies that focus on providing their employee just the tool to doing the job at hand aren’t doing that well. A good employee-employer relationship is becoming very important,”” Swinwood said.

The IT work force, and especially computer programmers, is much more mobile than the rest of the Canadian work force and employees tend to chose new positions because of the career development opportunities they offer rather than a higher salary, Swinwood said.

Increased mobility is partially a reflection of IT workers’ nomadic spirit, but also an aspect of the battered IT market, said Stephen Mill, regional manager for Robert Half Technology

“”Companies are more apt to hire someone on a project basis, especially when it comes to a programming perspective, because a lot of companies don’t need full time programmers. They only need one when they’re in the midst of an upgrade, or a special project,”” he said. “”And it’s also helping companies because they don’t have the cost of a full time hire. But that’s not to say no one is hiring full time and only hiring contractors. IT has always had a preponderance of contractors.””

The mobility trends found by SHRC may not reflect the true state of the IT job market, since a general lack of open positions may influence even the biggest nomad to hold on to the job in hand, said Herbert Hess, president of Toronto-based recruiting firm Hess Associates.

“”A few years ago if (employees) didn’t like the colour on the walls they were out of there, there were so many jobs available,”” he said. “”The market has shifted 180 degrees. It’ll probably pick up in the next two to five years, but not at the same pace that it was.””

Project managers are in high demand, said Swinwood, but Mill cautions that only certain skills are hot.

“”IT hiring is always skill-specific. There are certain software insecurities, if you have that skill you’re in extreme demand,”” he said. “” The ones that are popping into my head right now are JD Edwards OneWorld. Anyone who can project manage that, or Oracle 11i. Those two are really hard to find.””

However, new graduates from “”fast track”” courses are facing the biggest obstacles to getting full time employment, said Swinwood, because some enterprises are looking for people with a broad knowledge and not training limited to one piece of software or hardware.

“”One of the challenges that we’ve seen is that a lot of those short educational courses only teach you how to use a tool, so they teach you the what, but not the why or the how,”” he said.

Skill-specific hiring is making things particularly difficult for the new entrants into the IT labour force, Hess said.

“”Entry-level IT is probably the toughest position to find, because companies are looking for experienced people so that they don’t have to train them,”” Hess said. “”The bigger companies have the resources to train people, but those companies are just not bringing people in from the bottom end,”” he said.

The full-scale survey , which will poll 23,000 companies and 35,000 employees across Canada, will further look at the employment trends in the IT market, Swinwood said. It will look at mobility, career development and skill issues on a national scale, as well as examining what a good employee-employer relationship in this sector means, and why IT is not attracting high numbers of women. The survey is expected to begin this fall.

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