Hot skills that get you ahead of the game in Canada’s IT jobs market

CIOs and hiring managers today are actively seeking IT professionals who also possess specific non-technical skills – such as writing, public speaking and business process mapping.

That fact clearly emerges from the 2008 IT Job Market & Salary Survey report published by IT World Canada.

Conducted in January-February this year, the survey polled IT World Canada’s readers across the five core publications as well as its online audience. Of the 3,615 respondents to the salary survey, 3,246 were full-time IT professionals.


Highlights of the report were presented by John Pickett, vice-president and community advocate, IT World Canada at the 2008 CIO Assembly, a two-and-a-half day interactive retreat for C-Level executives. The event was held earlier this month at King City, Ont.

In demand skills

Pickett said a change in the distribution of IT staff within the industry is driving a need for certain non-technical skills.

Many Canadian companies, he said, are moving the hard core development work out of house, while retaining functions such as business analysis in house.

Little wonder then that “business analysis and project management are among the skills in highest demand.”

And as applications become more complex, he said, another job function that’s witnessed the fastest growth over the past few years is the Help Desk.

Among the core IT functions, application and database development (MCSD, SQL, Java, ASP, .net, Oracle) head the list. Pickett suggested that the Canadian computer industry – as a whole – was hiring more aggressively in these areas.

Networking (Cisco, VoIP, wireless, net management) is an “in demand” skill for 38 per cent of the hiring managers, while 15 per cent had plans to hire new networking staff.

Other sought after areas of expertise include: Windows administration, security, Web services and server virtualization.

For a very small group of companies, skills such as RAD/extreme programming are a high priority. But it doesn’t emerge as a highly needed skill across the entire sample.

Highly sought after are technical qualifications in areas such as Active Server Pages, Linux, Systems Security, and Microsoft Solutions Development.

One interesting phenomenon – highlighted by Pickett – is the rise of new roles, in response to changing work distribution within the industry.

One of these, he said, is the role of Relationship Manager – of which there are quite a few flavours.

“The most prominent are vendor relationship managers, and [those] responsible for managing the relationship between dispersed project teams, whether they are part of their own company or of a vendor supported outsourcing arrangement.”

Is there a skills shortage?

Pickett acknowledged that the “skills shortage” issue is one that generates a lot of controversy.

But he said if hiring managers can’t find the people they need then from their perspective there is a shortage.

The 2008 job market and salary survey indicates that this is indeed the case. It discloses a 4.8 per cent net increase in IT positions for 2008.

The “shortage”, Pickett suggests, is in many ways is a skills mismatch. “There are many people out there with great experience and skills that nobody is looking for today.”

But he predicted hiring managers would face even “greater challenges” in the short term finding the staff they need.

He said the IT World Canada salary survey figures assume people leaving one company will join another.

“We didn’t ask – and I can’t tell you – of those leaving the company, how many are actually quitting the workforce altogether. But we’re certainly at a stage where some of the pre-boom and boom people are leaving the workforce. The boomers are a large content of the population.”

For this reason, he said, the net increase hiring managers could anticipate “is something more than 5 per cent across the board.”

Courting better prospects?

Around 60 per cent of respondents to the Job Market Survey are pretty happy (“satisfied” or “very satisfied”) in their jobs.

On the whole, said Pickett, it’s also a very stable workforce. Respondents’ average tenure with companies was about 10 years, and they “spent an average of six years in the job they’re in right now.”

Those in larger companies, he said, tend to have a greater sense of job security.

But he cautioned against these numbers making hiring managers too comfortable about their ability to hang on to IT staff.

“There is a significant danger your employees are available to be poached.”

The IT World Canada executive noted that while only eight per cent of respondents are actively looking for a new job, another 43 per cent said they would consider a job offer if the right one came along. This means 51 per cent are open to being poached.

Hiring sources is yet another factor relevant to this issue of a skills shortfall, he said.

How so?

The survey indicates just 23 per cent of the those hired are expected to come from internal sources — namely, employees from other areas of the company who are brought into IT and trained. As many as 77 per cent will be hired from external sources.

And of this group, Pickett noted, the biggest component (66 per cent) will be hires poached from other companies. “That’s a recipe for competition, increased salaries…and a skills shortage.”

Other external hires will be fresh grads from colleges and universities (22 per cent) and grads from other tech programs (13 per cent).

Show me the money

The survey reveals that in 2008 average base salaries IT increased 3.3 per cent from the previous year. The average base salary this year is $77,883 – compared to $75,415 last year. Bonuses too increased slightly more than salaries – around 3.6 per cent across the board.

The increase in bonus last year was 4.1 per cent.

“I’m surprised compensation hasn’t risen as quickly as one would have expected – based on the competition that we see for skills,” said Pickett.

However, he said, in certain regions – and for specific jobs – salaries have risen faster.

“Major centres such as the Greater Toronto Area, Ottawa, Montreal, Calgary – are generally speaking higher paid than the regions outside these centres.”

Industry-wise, he noted energy and utilities heads the list in terms of overall compensation “because of the booming industry in Alberta.” The average total compensation in this sector was $104,921.

Larger companies tend to pay better than the smaller companies.

Interestingly, though education (average compensation – $71,331) and government (average compensation $77,201) were on the lower end of the scale – on the whole these sectors had the most satisfied and secure employees.

Across job titles, he said, executive salaries are increasing faster than staff salaries. “On the other hand, executive salaries have a larger bonus component – so there’s also a greater element of risk.”

The “bonus” factor, it seems, plays a big role in influencing satisfaction levels.

Over the years, said Pickett, IT World Canada’s salary surveys have shown that those who expect to get a bonus are on the whole more satisfied than those who don’t. “Those who are on a bonus plan but don’t receive a bonus are the unhappiest, and most likely to be looking for a job.”

He said there are many factors that could enhance people’s satisfaction – even though their salary may be lower. On the whole, though — compensation wins: “the people with the highest pay are the happiest.”

What keeps ’em happy?

What then are the non-monetary factors that keep people happy in IT?

Going by the survey, they’re pretty much the same as in other professions.

For instance, respondents who said they would recommend a career in IT (the overwhelming majority– 87 per cent) also said what they found most satisfying.

Specifically, they cited factors such as: challenging work (86 per cent), learning and development opportunities (61 per cent), rewarding work (49 per cent), working with talented people (47 per cent), work that makes a difference (36 per cent) advancement opportunities (27 per cent) and recognition (21 per cent).

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