Saskatchewan’s IT industry is considering a shared services approach to make training programs more accessible and affordable.

The provincial chapter of the Canadian Information Processing Society (CIPS) Thursday released an in-depth survey of more than 300 companies that examined human resource deficiencies in the local technology sector. The 101-page report says inexperience, poor training and the inability to offer competitive wages constitute IT employer’s biggest recruitment challenges.

In response, CIPS will help form a permanent steering committee that will follow up on the report’s recommendations. These include sharing costs to increase the availability of IT training programs, creating a training database, forming closer partnerships with the K-12 school system and post-secondary institutions, and developing industry workshops and conferences.

The Saskatchewan Post-Secondary Education and Skills Training offered funding for the research effort. “It’s something everyone wants to know about but no one wants to take ownership of,” said Donna Lindskog, CIPS Queen City professionalism director. “A lot these aren’t in place — there have been studies done in the health care field, and it’s easy to see who the players are there. But in IT, it’s kind of tough. We’re going to try and get some more people involved.”

The initial steering committee involved in the report included representatives from CIBC, SaskTel, Potash Corp. and a variety of colleges and universities.

According to the report, most companies managed to hire within the province, and retention was not an issue for 73 per cent of the respondents. The bigger problems surround developing skills. The survey said 50 per cent of those who had difficulty providing ongoing training cited lack of available programs in the province as a factor, as well as lack of time and resources. CIPS has already compiled a list of some 100 organizations in the report, and Lindskog said one of the permanent steering committee’s tasks will be to explore how training information can be distributed.

“It’s what we’re going to try first,” she said. “It seems that would be the obvious thing. We did look at what was out there, and it did seem like the answers were there if people knew about them.”

Donna Denowski, a career counsellor for the past 13 years with the Academy of Learning in Saskatoon, said the awareness problem goes deeper than the courses themselves.

“People that are seeking this kind of career sometimes don’t fully understand what they’re training for,” she said. “Therefore they don’t know where to seek their training. When I talk to clients, there’s a great lack of knowledge as to what even designation means. They want to be a techie, but they don’t know the involvement.”

Indeed, the CIPS report cast a poor light on the local industry’s familiarity with the Information Systems Professional (ISP) designation for which Lindskog is responsible.

More than 70 per cent of those surveyed said they didn’t know of the designation and 83 per cent said they did not look for it when recruiting IT employees. Introduced in 1989, ISP is designed to offer members a code of ethics and recognize a standard in education and experience.

Denowski said the Academy of Learning ensures that its teaching staff is qualified to bring student candidates qualified to the level to pass education and has introduced a two-year cooperative program to develop more work experience.

Lindskog said promoting the designation is a big part of CIP’s agenda.

“With me it’s very important to keep my ongoing training, because my original training was way back,” she said. “We’ve been working towards that, but it’s such a new industry, there’s a lot of things going on.”

Denowski, however, pointed out that putting ISP after your name doesn’t solve everything.

“You can have a person even pass designation and still not be able to troubleshoot,” she said. “Sometimes they don’t conceptualize correctly.”

The report is vague on how cost sharing for training activities would be rolled out, but Denowski, who emphasized that her personal opinion may differ from that of her school, was skeptical of the idea.

“It’s pretty difficult to know where an employer could be involved in a cost sharing process because we are the trainers,” she said. “How can they be paying and training at the same time? The attitude of employers today is, ‘We want you fully qualified. We don’t have the time or the money to spend on this.’ The education is expensive.”

CIPS will call a meeting of the steering committee in September, Lindskog said, and is still seeking more organizations to contribute to the project.

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