The Software Human Resource Council is expanding its mandate to deal with a broader range of technology skills issues, taking in the hardware as well as the software sector.
“We’ve been successful enough in the software sector … we got asked to do the same thing for the hardware side,” said Paul Swinwood, president of the federal government-backed sector council.
The SHRC, which has a staff of 16 people today, deals with human resource issues, labour market intelligence, skills definition and development and career awareness.
At the end of March, it held an invitation-only conference in Ottawa where several presenters gave overviews of key technology areas. The Technology Vision Conference was aimed at seeking a consensus on what technologies are important to Canada’s international competitiveness in information and communication technology.
The presentations covered microelectronics, photonics, wireless communication, software and systems, quantum computing, sensor networks and nanotechnology, along with an overview of information and communications technology by a speaker from Industry Canada.
Swinwood said the council has hired Denzil Doyle, a Canadian IT industry veteran who was the first head of computer vendor Digital Equipment of Canada Ltd. and now runs an Ottawa consulting firm, Doyletech Corp., to help it develop a technology road map that will guide its expansion.
“We’re being asked to look at the human resource issues around the hardware and the software,” Swinwood said, “which to put it very bluntly are converging technologies, because these days you can’t really have a piece of hardware that doesn’t have software with it.”
The first step will be to decide on technology areas where Canada has the potential to be a significant player. That phase should be complete by the end of this year, according to Swinwood. Then comes the process of finding out what employers in those sectors need in order to compete, Swinwood said.
“We’re not taking five years to do this. We’re starting work just as quickly as we possibly can,” he added. “We’re hoping to have more of an impact by this time next year.”
With the expansion of its mandate beyond the software field, SHRC will also be getting a new name. Swinwood said that will likely be announced this fall. Staffing is also increasing – two new employees have been hired recently, he notes, though SHRC’s approach is to use outside expertise where practical rather than hiring permanent staff “except where we need the knowledge,” Swinwood said. “It doesn’t mean a massive growth for the council.”
John Reid, president of the Canadian Advanced Technology Alliance (CATA), described the broadening of the SHRC mandate as “a very good, constructive change.” Looking at software and hardware as separate silos does not work, he said. Reid said the SHRC plays an important role in addressing technology-related human resource issues, complementing the role of private-sector organizations like CATA. “You need someone to actually be the channel,” he said, “and it’s better to have a broader channel.”
Dan Gale, vice-president and chief technology officer of the Canadian Microelectronics Corp., a non-profit organization based in Kingston, Ont., that supports microsystems research, was one of the speakers at SHRC’s recent Technology Vision Conference. Gale said CMC and SHRC have worked together from time to time in the past, and while his organization focuses on supporting academic research at the post-graduate level, there is also a need for more technology-related training at the undergraduate level, and this is where SHRC can help.
“As I see it, the world is a programmable world,” Gale said, “and that means bringing together embedded software with embedded processor technology.”
Swinwood said Canada has no shortage of technology knowhow, but still lacks people who understand both technology and business. Too many Canadian companies reach a modest size and then are sold to foreign buyers, he said.
“I want another 10 Cognoses for Canada — $1 billion a year operations headquartered and run out of Canada,” said Swinwood, referring to Ottawa-based software vendor Cognos Inc. “We’re really good in Canada at building a $5-million-a-year operation, and then we sell it.”