Hiring demand starts to percolate across Canada

Some glimmers of hope are appearing in the Canadian job market.

The June Labour Force survey from Statistics Canada surprised analysts with its relatively optimistic picture of Canada’s labour market. Although unemployment edged up to 8.6 percent, the pace of decline has slowed over the past three months, with a net loss of 13,000 jobs, much lower than the expected 40,000 –  50,000, and a significant improvement over the 273,000 losses in the first quarter.

The seasonally adjusted professional, technical and scientific sector employment index showed modest growth, tracking above the general trend.

Although youth were hard-hit, the one group that has consistently made gains is the 55+ demographic, especially women.
These improvements are slowly making themselves felt in the IT job market, at least in some regions, according to two national staffing organizations.

Igor Abramovitch, Toronto branch manager at IT employment agency Robert Half Technology, says that he is seeing modest hiring in several sectors, notably government, health care, securities and, surprising to him, finance and manufacturing.
But, he says, “Companies are still a bit careful in hiring.  They’re taking a bit of extra time.”

Toronto-based Eagle Professional Resources is also seeing a rebound in hiring in some of its 10 locations across the country, according to CEO Kevin Dee, but mainly for contractors and temporary workers.

“Clients are still nervous about hiring full-time staff,” he says.

He too, is seeing a pickup in demand in the GTA, especially for what he describes as business transformation-type people, as companies pick up projects that had been put on hold.

But Western Canada is a different story. Its recovery is lagging. Montreal, too, is quiet; Dee notes that it seems to be one of the worst hit markets.

Skill requirements vary across the country; what’s hot in one region is not necessarily in demand in another. In the GTA, Abramovitch is getting a lot of demand for application developers (Web 2.0 and .NET), infrastructure support professionals (helpdesk, network and server administrators), and people with virtualization skills.

In Ottawa, his company is seeing requests for Java, .NET and SharePoint specialists. Virtualization specialists, voice over IP (VoIP) specialists, IT administrators, desktop support , and .NET developers and QA testers are hot in Vancouver, where professional services and healthcare are driving demand.

Edmonton’s market is driven by oil and gas, government, financial services and healthcare, and in-demand skills include programmers, business systems analysts, and IT administrators and desktop support.

Calgary, on the other hand, is looking for project managers, system implementation specialists, .NET specialists, virtualization gurus and QA testers, thanks to its oil and gas, software and technology companies and publicly traded companies.

Dee says that Eagle is seeing some demand for project managers out West, and he’s seeing a lot of project managers looking for work in Ottawa and Montreal. Business analysts continue to be in demand, even in tough times.

His advice to job seekers: have generalist capabilities, but be a specialist in something.

“You need to know how it all fits,” he says, and adds that there is a growing demand for people who can talk the language of the business.

Soft skills are becoming more important, Abramovitch agrees.

 “We’re looking for candidates with strong business acumen and communications skills,” he says. “Companies are taking more time hiring because they can. They’re waiting for the perfect person, with technical skills AND business and communication skills.”

 He’s also getting requests for candidates with ITIL expertise, as companies look to improve their internal processes and save money in the long term.

And companies are not shy about combining multiple roles into one position, for example asking for both .NET and COBOL expertise. As Dee also observed, they’re also hiring more part-time and contract staff.
“When companies did layoffs, they were left with a core team, and they’re trying not to overwork them (and give them reason to leave),” Abramovitch says. “They’re hiring part-time or contract staff for projects.”

He sees growing need for people in specific areas that will help businesses become more efficient and be prepared to hit the ground running when the economy improves. Business intelligence, collaboration tools, and unified communications are hot areas, especially for companies with multiple locations.

The hard ROI in virtualization as well as the tie-in with Green IT makes it a winner, as is application development for the Web using both .NET and open source.

However, Dee warns that in the future, anything that can be commoditized is likely to be offshored, leaving only customer-facing jobs available locally.

But, he adds, anyone with both an IT degree and soft skills will be in a good place “If the recovery comes as expected in the next several months and into 2010, we will be back to a skills shortage very fast,” he notes, especially since he expects that boomers who went back to work when their portfolios fell will be retiring again once the markets pick up.

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