Help wanted: IT jobless seek assistance from SHRC

Most of us return to our offices after a meeting prepared to listen to some voice mail. Paul Swinwood prepares himself for abuse. The president of the Software Human Resource Council says he gets about three to five angry phone calls a week — all from unemployed IT professionals frustrated by their

job search. The cursing usually involves “”sex and travel,”” as Swinwood puts it, and typically involves the story of a job seeker who has sent out 100 resumes, with no responses.

“”I’ll ask them, ‘Did you research what the company is looking for?’ They’ll say, ‘No, they got my resume. They should be able to see if I’m qualified,'”” Swinwood said during a recent conversation. “”You learn very quickly why they can’t find a job.””

Why anyone would vent to the SHRC is beyond me, but it sure shows how so many in the industry feel as though they were lied to. The only phrase more verboten in IT circles right now than “”offshore outsourcing”” is “”skills shortage,”” a throwback to the halcyon days of 1997-99 when SHRC’s main task was to suggest strategies for filling all the vacancies. Even with a four per cent unemployment rate now, Swinwood said he wasn’t allowed to call it a skills shortage, but instead a “”tight labour market.””

What was, at the time, an earnest beckoning to young minds to enter the IT industry now seems like a siren song, but the worst part is we’ve gone from one extreme to the other. As SHRC chair and former CIPS president Faye West points out, high school guidance counsellors “”read about Nortel laying off 9,000 workers. So they think there are no high-tech jobs.””

This gets at one of the difficulties in capturing an accurate picture of the Canadian IT labour force. Some people don’t seem to understand that working for an IT vendor is not the same thing as being a member of an enterprise IT department. Both may employ coders, network administrators and the like, but the increased sophistication of corporate networks means it is the non-IT company side of the market that will grow faster. That’s why, instead of pushing young computer geeks towards computer science, we should be encouraging them to develop a more well-rounded set of interests. That way, they might major in computer science at university and minor in business. Or even better, major in business and minor in computer science.

Probably the best way to get hired right now is to choose an industry that interests you, then look for what role technology plays in it. Someone pointed out that health care is an obvious one: as the country moves toward a national electronic patient record, all kinds of related processes will undergo a digital revolution, and they’ll need someone other than the doctors to run it. Swinwood had an even better example: “”You know every time a Wal-Mart goes up? There’s IT in there, there’s a database, a network. Somebody has to set that up and run it.”” (“”I wish you had said Canadian Tire,”” West commented).

Just as those already employed in IT have had to align their jobs with the objectives of the business, the jobless have to align their search with a business objective. Instead of looking for an opportunity to set up and manage a corporate network, imagine the kind of firm you’d like to do it for. Is it an organization that trades stocks? Sells groceries? Saves lives? Every company does something that in one way or another creates change in the world. If you can figure out how to help them, you’re hired. And believe me, no matter what they’re hoping to do, they’re going to be lost without you.

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